Thank You Foster Families!

May historically is proclaimed as National Foster Care Month, a tradition dating back to 1988 when the first Presidential proclamation was created. These statements of recognition provide acknowledge the importance of foster care in our country’s service to children and parents who cannot safely stay together.

We are requesting that public and private child welfare agencies and organizations nationwide go a step further by recognizing National Family Foster Care Month. This has a precedent dating back to 1991 with the National Commission on Family Foster Care, convened by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the NFPA. The Commission’s report — A Blueprint for Fostering Infants, Children, and Youths in the 1990s —-published by CWLA – advocated to change the historically used terminology “foster family care” to “family foster care” and advocating to put family first.

Focusing on the family perspective is especially essential because of escalating stresses on foster care. It is expected that the loss and trauma that precipitated the separation of children and parents will be ameliorated by being cared for by foster families able to provide safety, well-being, and opportunities for permanence.

One way to step up support for foster families — requiring no funding, just strength-based language — is to stop using the word “placement” to describe children and foster families, and the process of connecting them. Foster families are doing more than opening their homes. As NFPA and our partners have advocated, referring to foster families as “placements” or “homes” makes it easy to forget they are comprised of parents and often other children.

Further, referring to children as being “placed” glosses over the reality that they are, indeed, actually “joining” new families. Integrating children with trauma histories profoundly impacts each parent and child, individually and collectively. As well-meaning as foster families are, it is essential to recognize that disruptions often occur because agency staff and families do not address – in advance – issues that emerge when integrating children with diverse backgrounds. There must be candid conversations with all children – those joining and already there – to help ensure that everyone feels comfortable and safe.

When children join families new to them, lifestyles are unfamiliar and often overwhelming. There frequently are differences in the tasks of daily living regarding sleeping arrangements, hygiene, food, money, individual family values, and culture. It is difficult enough for adults to discuss feelings and fears, so what happens when someone six, 12, or 16 years of age doesn’t know who to trust?

Far too many children in foster today are not able to achieve reunification or be connected to another relationship that is safe, nurturing and enduring. Many end up on the streets when their “independent living” alarm clock rings, resulting in their becoming homeless, trafficked, or incarcerated – especially young people who are black, brown, or identify as LGBTQA. Foster families who have children by birth do not expect our children to “age out.” We don’t want this for any children. Therefore, prospective and current foster families must be able to identify not only the strengths, skills, and supports they offer, but agency staff also need to specify the strengths, skills, and supports available to families. Preservice and inservice training must be tied to clearly defined competencies. Foster families must be connected to local and state foster parent associations, as well as the NFPA.

The National Foster Parent Association appreciates the proclamation that “shares the country’s gratitude for those who support youth and families by being a resource to children in need and supporting birth parents.” For decades, there have been national, state, and local discussions on how to provide family foster care services as part of an interdisciplinary effort involving neighborhoods, faith-based communities, the courts, health and mental health professionals, educational institutions, and business groups. Efforts to integrate these services has never been fully realized. Now is the time to recommit to those principles.

Making “families” the centerpiece of a National Family Foster Care Month is a big step toward reaching those goals.

By Eileen Mayers Pasztor, DSW
Professor Emerita
California State University, Long Beach
Foster and Adoptive Parent
Contact: eileen.pasztor@csulb.edu

References:

National Commission on Family Foster Care. A Blueprint for Fostering Infants, Children, and Youths in the 1990s. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, Inc.

Williams, E., Oliver, B., Pasztor, E.M., & Montiel, E. (2021). What’s in a Name (explaining the shift to “resource family”). Fostering Families Today, May/June, 26 -29. See also NFPA’s series, Coffee with Caregivers: Strength-based words and expressions – Article #3.


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