Foster parents are motivated not by dollar signs but by their care for kids
We were deeply disturbed by the characterization of foster parents by former Senate president Stan Rosenberg in his May 1 opinion piece (“We need to do better by our foster children”). Embedded in an otherwise thoughtful set of recommendations is a callous perpetuation of the antiquated and damaging stereotype that foster parents are in it for the money.
There are bad actors in every profession, and when they are identified, they must be held accountable. Foster parents willingly accept that we will be held to a high standard and that there will be serious consequences for failing to meet that standard.
Thousands of people open their homes and hearts to children who cannot safely live at home. Denigrating the contributions they make daily to the Commonwealth is demoralizing to current foster parents and keeps qualified prospective foster parents wary.
We suggest a new approach. Let’s describe foster parents as an elite force of highly skilled, well-trained loving adults who are well supported and prepared to help children heal from trauma and to support their emotional, academic, and social development until their parent or parents can resume that work. Then let’s do everything we can to back up our words.
Massachusetts Alliance for Families
A foster parent’s eloquent mission statement
Foster parents do hard things (“We need to do better by our foster children”). We step into the mess because frightened and vulnerable children deserve to know that there’s a family out there ready to set another place at their table for them, and that driving around with a social worker and waiting out the night at a 24-hour McDonald’s isn’t right. We lean into this work, because someone needs to teach our foster children how to ride bikes, tie shoes, and apply for college while they also learn how to navigate a new family and their own traumatic history. And we are that someone.
We don’t stop because the system feels broken or because our hope feels too shallow to get us through another obstacle. We are foster parents because the statistics are real children, and the commitment we make to them means that love wins, even if just for a few weeks.
Foster parents will march on, because we know that what we give of ourselves can make all the difference in the trajectory of a child’s life. We will take the pain with the joy and be grateful for the opportunity to love someone else’s child with all of the conviction with which we love our own. It is exactly that simple and precisely that complicated.
The writer has been a foster parent for 12 years.
Children and families gain when the state invests in preventing abuse
You hit the nail on the head in your May 1 editorial “Thinking big on DCF reforms” when you argued that part of the solution is preventing abuse and neglect before kids land in the care of the Department of Children and Families. The good news is that there are proven child-abuse prevention programs. The American Journal of Public Health recently showed, for example, that the Massachusetts Healthy Families program, which connects young parents to home visitors and supportive services, makes a difference.
The journal reported that the small number of parents in the program who were reported to DCF were 32 percent less likely to have a second report than those in the control group. This was despite the fact that 55 percent of these parents had substantiated cases of abuse or neglect in their own childhoods and one-third had been in foster care themselves.
The study found that Healthy Families reduced homelessness and dependence on cash assistance, increased parents’ education and employment, decreased parents’ emergency room use, and reduced maternal depression. The program currently costs the Commonwealth less than $500 per family per year, with the potential to save many thousands of dollars over a child’s lifetime. Child abuse is a cycle that can be stopped.
Anne Bailey Berman
The writer is on the board of the Children’s Trust, which sponsors the Healthy Families program.