onor Your (Foster) Mothers and Fathers” is a new report by Naomi Schaefer Riley published by the American Enterprise Institute. Naomi has made it her business over the past few years to become an expert in adoption and foster care. I often think of adoption and foster care as akin to military service — so few of us serve, so we often don’t know the intense sacrifices necessary and the critical need there is for responsible citizens to step up to the plate. Naomi has been surveying the challenges and wants to help make it possible for there to be more foster families who can stay in the system for more than a year or two, so that the 443,000 children in foster care can have stable homes.
One of the things not to do, she recommends, is to start throwing more money at potential foster parents. That’s because the money that state governments tend to give seldom covers health-care and other expenses sufficiently, especially if there are special needs involved (which is so often the case with children who might have trauma in their history). Money isn’t typically the factor that is going to recruit the kind of people who want to step into the arena — the kind of people who are moved by the call to this service of love. And it’s also because young adults who spent time in foster care often remember the money — just how much it was and what it was used for. A child who is desperate for a little “normalcy” might not exactly feel at home if he’s feeling that the people who are supposed to love him unconditionally are in it for the money.
What foster parents want is more communication and support. They want to have some input in the future of these children they bring into their homes at such vulnerable times in their lives. But the caseworkers are overworked and undertrained. The family courts are overwhelmed. And in some states child-welfare caseworkers are often using pen and paper, transferring notes to office computers, or find themselves checking office files late at night. (Many children tend to have better technology!)
In the report, Riley writes:
In the past year, Virginia foster parents complained to me about caseworkers placing children in their home without mentioning food allergies or asthma and failing to inform them about a child’s history of sexual abuse, even though other children in the home could have been in danger as a result. The lack of communication is something the families interviewed by the Boston Globe mention as well; they were not told about the children’s trauma, different medical issues, or even things that might comfort them.
Riley also shares that a West Virginia foster couple told her that they were scolded by caseworkers “for not taking in more children or for refusing to take older children when they specifically said they could take only younger ones.” When she asked another foster mother, outside Denver, what was most difficult about fostering young children who had experienced severe trauma, the woman told her: “It’s the adults, not the kids.”
She points to some reform efforts, including one in Indiana to get written testimony from foster parents in child-welfare cases, and another, in Massachusetts, to pass a bill of rights for foster parents.
Any wise politician would take this up as a cause. At a time of great division, helping children who don’t have a lot of time to get a little love and stability in their lives should be something that can rally people on the right, those on the left, and those who find themselves somewhat politically homeless altogether. Instead, she’s also having to write about a bill in New York State that would make it harder for children in the foster-care system in New York — more than 250,000, about 3,500 waiting to be adopted — to find permanent homes. Legislation that has passed the assembly and senate would allow parents whose rights have been terminated by a court to have visitation rights. Realizing that such a severing happens in dangerous circumstances, decent people seeking to have anything to do with the foster-care system and family courts find it it to be just one more deterrent. New York is a state that doubled down on radical abortion ideology earlier this year. The governor has made it clear that he has no interest in listening to the people who live in his state who oppose abortion and instead want women to have the plausible choice between motherhood or adoption. But when it comes to foster care, there is no abortion debate. There is no argument over life. The child is with us and at his most vulnerable outside the womb. We simply must make those children priorities.
A quote that is attributed to Mother Teresa, who died 22 years ago this month, makes a whole lot of sense to me: “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” There may be a lot of contentious debate about abortion, but rare is the person who tis truly enthusiastic about it. Rare too, at least in my travels, is the person who is happy about the state of politics in our country and the world. Making the world — state by state, community by community — a better place for children who find themselves in the foster-care system should be meeting ground for people of good will. Naomi Schaefer Riley is helping show the way. Read, give thanks, and pay heed. We can do this. We must do this. Let this research spark a culture change. Not everyone can be a foster or adoptive parent, but we all have our roles.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.