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Foster Care: A Positive Alternative

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Foster Care: A Positive Alternative

Many People have heard of foster care and have developed an opinion from non-factual stories or much altered stories about the system. Foster care has had a bad name placed on its shoulders because the majority of the stories told are the ones that went awry; when in all reality there are very few cases of foster care in which the children are in a detrimental environment. There are problems that the foster care parents, biological parents, and even the children must overcome together. The time, money, dedication, and heart it takes to become a responsible and respected foster parent is immense. Because of these reasons there is a lack of adults willing to take on the challenge. Foster parents may be married, a foster parent may not be married, but either way, foster parents come with big hearts ready to ameliorate the child's life in any way possible.

Despite what horror stories may be floating around about the foster care system and foster parents, it is a step and tool that is life changing not only for the child, but the biological family and foster family as well. Yes, there are flaws with the system and there are those parents that slipped through the cracks; but more times than not, foster care is a positive resource for children in unhealthy situations.

There are two main reasons why children are placed in the foster care system. Neglect and abuse by the biological parents to the child or themselves and drug abuse serve as the leading causes (Woodward 1). Children of drug addicts or alcoholics are at high risk of abuse so they are often placed in the system. A biological parent may not be fit to properly care for the child or children. The parents may willingly give their consent for the child to be taken into custody or a court may order the parents' rights to be terminated if necessary. If any case should arise in which the child needs to be removed right away, the parents have no choice but to render the child or children to child services (1). The biological parents may have visitation rights after the child is placed within the system and may be allowed visitations, supervised or otherwise depending on the circumstances (Pamphlet 1534). In a 2000 Annual Safety Report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it was reported that only five percent of abuse or neglect cases was reportedly committed by a foster parent.

There are two objectives in the Foster Care System. Federal law governs the Adoption Assistance and Child Reform Act of 1980. The Two objectives of this policy are to preserve the biological family if possible and to support permanency planning (if a child is removed from a home, the social worker must decide quickly if they will return based on the circumstances). Foster Care may last for a few days, weeks, or even years. (Woodward 1)

To preserve the biological family the parents are trained to take care of themselves and their children. The parents are taught how to take care of themselves and the child emotionally, physically, hygienically, and nutritionally; so the child may possibly return to their home (Pamphlet 9088). Child welfare officials may recommend parental education classes as well ("Protect" 10A).

If a child is not able to revisit their original home, they may remain in foster care. According to the Annual Safety Report done by The Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 542,000 children were in foster care as of September 30, 2000 (Child Welfare Outcomes 2). Currently there are about 250 children waiting for a foster home everyday in Oregon (Pamphlet 9065). This year, there are already 523,000 foster children in the system in the United States alone ("Protect" 10A) and only a very few 100,000 homes in the U.S. are certified foster parents (Woodward 1). Each year roughly 30,000 more children are entered into the system (Child Welfare Outcomes 1).

The goal of the foster parents is to "help the child develop normally in a family situation." The foster parents are not the child's guardians because the state has legal guardianship. They are responsible for getting the child or children to school and appointments on time, feeding them, clothing them, meeting the child's therapist(s) and caseworker regularly. They must also attend all training sessions and their home must pass inspection for health and safety. They must be licensed by an agency in their area (Woodward 3).

Being removed from their homes is typically very distressing for the child or children. They may have nightmares, sleeping problems, eating disorders, depression, anger, confusion, and/or attachment disorder (Woodward 1).

Attachment Disorder is an unsystematic display of affection with strangers and a trivial display of affection towards primary caregivers ("What is Attachment?"). According to Nancy Geoghegan, interviewed in Charlotte Weldon's, Foster Care: A Psychological War, "Attachment disorder may result in the child [being] unable to attach to a primary caregiver and go through the normal development that children must go through in order to function in relationships." (2)

The child may be overly compliant and belligerent while continually seeking danger (Woodward 1). The child or children may show a lack of empathy and cruelty towards animals or other human beings (1). Along with the previously mentioned, they may also show an evasion of reciprocal smiling and safety (1). "These children may be very alert yet avoid eye contact," Linda Katz states, "They are often aggressive and hyperactive, and show indiscriminate affection toward strangers..." (Charlotte Weldon 2). If the attachment disorder is left untreated, it may result in autism. In some cases of physical abuse and neglect, along with no treatment of attachment disorder the results may be severe, sometimes resulting in becoming a "sociopath and a threat to society". (2)

Foster children are normal children in the sense that they are children, but psychologically they have to deal with typical life obstacles and other psychological demands. The younger a child is, the emotional effects become more acute. When a child is exposed to an unconstructive surrounding throughout the brain developing process and nervous system, survival effects transpire. The effects could be minute or as severe as no conception of right or wrong. Without a dominate parental figure in the early years of life, a child may never be able to obtain nurture or love from any other person. (2)

As shown in Ruth Hubbell's, Foster Care and Families, the biological mothers of the foster children show numerous psychological effects. A study was done with 160 mothers, the results are as follows: 89% felt sadness, 74% were worried, 67% were



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