Unless you’re closely involved in the foster care realm in some facet, you likely don’t understand it, BUT you probably think you do. Because before working with Children’s First, I also thought I did.
The media portrays foster care as a sanctuary for children with unfit parents, usually those that fall victim to the perpetual cycle of substance abuse, or those that are either victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. To the public, all children in foster care are scathed by a history of abuse and/or neglect at the hands of their parents and that therefore, every child in foster care is in need of a “new, loving home”.
That, however, is just not the reality of foster care.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Children's Bureau has identified a list of risk factors that may hinder a parent and/or caregivers’ perceived ability to parent a child. These risk factors include things that are often out of an individual’s control and are, frankly, striking, like financial hardship or disability.
Many circumstances in which children are removed from their homes could be avoided, had there been some sort of resource or program that helped keep families together. As stated in the previous paragraph - the risk factors listed above are based on perceived inability of an individual to parent, without any regard to whether or not it infringes on the rights of the individuals themselves.
This knowledge isn’t commonplace and with the romanticization of the foster care system and adoption, and the results of it, in movies like The Blind Side, society’s judgement is certainly clouded as it pertains to the foster care system. Add in the ever growing presence of social media and bloggers that capitalize on foster and adoption in today’s society and things are muddied even more.
Reunification takes place far more often than one might think, especially as it compares to the way in which it is portrayed in the media and on social media. In fact, according to The Children’s Bureau, 55% of children in foster care left by way of reunification with their parents and/or family members. With over half of the children being reunited with the people in their families, one can only surmise that it is, indeed, a big part of foster care resolution.
Earlier in the month, Children First shared a post that addressed the #FosterToAdopt hashtag, especially as it compares to #FosterToReunify. The #FosterToAdopt hashtag is full of thousands of smiling faces, letter boards, and happy moments while the #FosterToReunify hashtag is, more or less, far more empty (but also not lacking in happy moments).
The narrative needs to shift to one that acknowledges that #FamiliesAreBetterTogether and that fostering with the intent to reunify is not only positively impacting the lives of the kids you serve, but also the families that are behind them.
As June comes to a close, so does #NationalReunificationMonth, but the movement toward shifting the perspective about reunification marches forward and we are proud to be just a small part of that.