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Foster Parenting

Modern Trends

At the end of September 1998, there were 568,000 children in foster care in the United States. Of this number, 26 percent were in the homes of relatives, and 48 percent were in family foster homes. (The remainder of children in substitute care were in group and treatment homes, preadoptive placements, and other arrangements, including institutions for children with mental or physical disabilities.) By the end of the reporting period in 1990, 405,743 were in care (Foster Care Statistics, see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

However, the same database reflects another trend; children entering substitute care and those leaving care are older, indicating children whose emotional, educational, and therapeutic needs are more serious than the younger children entering care previously. The prevalence of substance abuse is bringing children into substitute care who may have some medical or learning problems from their own drug-positive status at birth or who, being older, have experienced poor supervision, neglect, or abuse for a longer time. Many kinship caregivers are, formally and informally, caring for the children of relatives caught up in the drug world. It is also true that whether or not substance abuse is a factor contributing to families being reported for child abuse or neglect, relatives may refuse to care for children whose behavior problems are so severe that the extended family has already taxed its resources to care for the child before child protective workers intervened. Thus, children entering substitute care to be placed in nonrelative homes are children whose behavior may have already deteriorated to the point that relatives and family friends feel unable to help.

Foster parents not only provide safety, physical care, and access to medical and educational services, but they also remediate the deficits that brought children into out-of-home care. Many people would first think of remediation of nutritional and care deficits, which many neglected children certainly have experienced. Medical check ups, continued monitoring of a chronic condition, and dental care are all immediate needs of children placed in foster homes. Educational needs met in foster care may include regular school attendance, referral of a child for special evaluation for learning or cognitive problems, discovery of an untreated sight or hearing problem, and interaction with the school system to establish and monitor the special education status of a child with learning, behavioral, or emotional problems. In addition, foster parents must work on neglected hygiene, age-appropriate behavior and social interactions, and modeling safe interactions to children who have been sexually abused. Foster parents, even those experienced in childcare through raising their own children or other family members, may encounter situations far outside their expectations of how children are treated. Thus, there are initial training programs for persons who wish to foster or adopt children, and continuing education in special problems of the individual children in a foster home. States and private agencies that train and certify foster and adoptive parents have extensive curricula and also stringent requirements for those who would care for children. Background checks are done to ensure the prospective parent(s) have an appropriate legal status, with no conviction of crimes against persons. Health standards include safe homes and water supplies, tuberculosis tests for the household, and checks for firearms, medications, and other hazards.

Some of the characteristics seen in successful foster parents are willingness to learn, ability to request and accept help, warmth, acceptance of children and their behavior, a high level of tolerance of frustration, excellent communication skills, good physical and emotional health, and a sense of humor ( Jordan and Rodway 1984). Not only must they provide safety and nurturing for children who have been harmed by their previous situations, but they are also part of the team involved in working with the birth parents to reunite the family. Their foster child's own parents may be resentful of the child's attachment to his foster parents and are often deficient in parenting skills and the ability to perceive and act in their child's best interest. For example, foster children often return from parental visits with sadness, resentment, mixed messages ("My real Mom says I don't have to do what you say!"), and emotional instability to the extent that children may experience physical and emotional regression, such as bedwetting, whining, or clinging behavior. Foster parents must then help the child return to his former equilibrium. If parental rights have been terminated, the foster parents are important workers on the team to ready the child for adoption.

Permanency planning also means keeping children, while out of their birth homes, in the least restrictive environment. A family home is indeed the least restrictive placement, with group homes, residential treatment facilities, and hospital settings, both medical and mental health, more restrictive placements. In order to keep children's out-of-home placements as close to family settings as possible, many foster families have obtained specialized training to care for children with unusual physical and emotional needs. Children with substantial physical and mental disabilities and Foster parents Judith and Phillip Porzel spend time with their adoptive and foster children. Becoming a foster parent in the United States often requires extensive background checks, interviews, training programs, and certification. STEPHANIE MAZE/CORBIS children with emotional disabilities respond well to family foster homes, where the parents are able to manage their increased needs for physical and medical care—such as a child in a wheelchair or one who requires tube feeding—or therapy sessions, following a behavioral modification regime, or dealing with sexual acting out as examples of increased emotional needs.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFoster Parenting - History, Modern Trends, Cultural And International Implications