by Sarah Kim
There are many misconceptions about foster care that can discourage prospective foster parents and misconstrue youth in foster care. It’s important to avoid making false assumptions and overgeneralizations about the people involved in foster care, so we chose four of the most common myths to debunk. For more information, there are resources linked throughout, as well as a list of support organizations.
Myth #1: I don’t fit the criteria to become a foster parent because I’m _______ [single, not a homeowner, gay, employed, too poor, too old, too young, disabled, too inexperienced, a pet owner].
None of these conditions/qualities disqualify you from fostering! However, foster care regulations vary slightly from state to state. Consider visiting the Child Welfare Information Gateway for a summary of each state’s unique guidelines for potential foster parents, as well as a list of websites for each state child welfare agency. The National Foster Parent Association also provides a step-by-step guide on beginning the foster parenting process.
Myth #2: Foster kids are “broken.”
Most youth in foster care have experienced trauma through no fault of their own. Sometimes, events of abuse or neglect can cause a young person to demonstrate behaviors that fuel this misconception. Thankfully, we understand trauma more now than ever, and there are a lot of trauma-informed services available. Alongside services and resources, ensure that you and the young person in your care are aware of any state or national foster parent and foster youth bill of rights. Empowering them with the knowledge of their rights contributes to building a healthy relationship with their foster family, birth family and community.
Additionally, youth in foster care have many of the same needs as their peers, and each has a unique family history, set of coping mechanisms, and experience in the foster care system. It’s important to honor the nuances of every individual, rather than overgeneralize youth in foster care.
With time, nurture and relationship-building, youth in foster care can navigate life as resiliently as any other young person. For example, Fostering Media Connections’ Youth Voice program is a testament to the value of supporting youth in foster care with an opportunity to process their experiences and honor their creative talents. Foster parenting comes with its own set of challenges, but the responsibility can also be incredibly meaningful.
Myth #3: The ultimate goal of foster care is to remove a child from an unsafe family environment and find them an adoptive family.
Foster care is intended to be a short-term, temporary solution as biological parents resolve any outstanding issues which may pose a danger to minor children. The end goal is typically reunification/permanency whenever possible. Thus most youth in foster care are ineligible for adoption. It may be difficult to accept that fostering a child is temporary, but that does not diminish the significance of your support. In fact, many youth who have experienced foster care report that having just one meaningful, consistent connection with an adult made a difference in their life trajectory.
Myth #4: I will be all alone.
Though there are many areas of improvement to be made in the child welfare system, there is support available for everyone involved. Lean on your state agency, case manager, local advocacy and support organizations, online groups and FFT. There are also books available, like The Foster Parent Toolbox. To support the child’s living expenses, foster parents and kinship caregivers usually receive financial subsidies that vary by state. Additionally, the young person will receive medical insurance that covers medical and dental care.
List of national support organizations:
- One Simple Wish
- Foster Club
- FosterEd (CA, AZ, NM, IN)
- The National Foster Parent Association
- Caring for Asian Youth: Combating Misconceptions
- Thirteen Things You Can Do to Support Kids in Foster Care
- Critical Connection: How Resource Families Support Reunification for Very Young Children
- Focusing on Foster Parents
- PTSD: Impacts on Children in Foster Care