This is part 2 of a 3 part series about Foster Care. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and it’s followed in May by National Foster Care Month, so what better time to dive into the world of foster parenting.
It takes a village to raise a child.
I just made that up. That’s not true, but here’s what is, it really is so very important for children, when they need to be removed from their home, to remain in their community. In Vermont, there are over 1,000 children in the custody of the State of Vermont (Department for Children and Families-DCF). These children need to be placed in safe, stable and nurturing homes where all of their needs can be met and we hope that they can stay in the community that they came from. According to the DCF website, current research shows that when a student in foster care changes schools they lose approximately 4-6 months of educational progress and that youth in foster care are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, suffer depression or social phobia, and end up living in poverty.
When social workers remove children from homes, common practice is to see if there is a safe caretaker who already knows the child. Social workers may look to other family members or the community-Often social workers reach out to schools as a resource to potentially identify anyone who may be a possible placement option for a child or youth. Sadly, social workers mostly come up short and are forced to find foster care placements in alternative communities. This means the child or youth has to not only experience the trauma of removal from their parents, but also will lose any other supportive relationships-friends, teachers, coaches-that they have.
This is why it is so critically important to have dedicated, trained foster parents in every town across Vermont and you could be one of them.
Foster care is temporarily caring for a child or youth who is in the custody of the State of Vermont (DCF custody). In the past five or so years, Judges will often make a decision that a child be placed in the Conditional Custody of a relative. THIS IS NOT FOSTER CARE. When a child or youth is in DCF custody, a judge is not able to determine placement. So if you become a foster parent, any child placed in your home will be in DCF custody. Foster parents can already know the child that comes to live with them, or they could be total strangers.
To become a foster parent in Vermont, you:
- Must be at least 21 years old;
- Can be single, married, living with a partner, or joined through a civil union; and
- Must have enough room to house a child and sufficient income to support your family.
Every child or youth in DCF custody has a social worker and that social worker has a supervisor AND every area of Vermont has what’s called a Resource Coordinator. These are some of your support network. A Resource Coordinator’s job is to “manage” the foster homes in their area. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend to care for the child as well as reimbursement for other costs associated with carrying out expectations in the family’s case plan (transportation to visits, attending training, court hearings). Children in custody are eligible for the Free Lunch Program and their medical care is covered. Childcare can be subsidized and some of their clothing costs may be covered. Many areas have foster parent support groups and Vermont Foster and Adoptive Family Association (VFAFA) is a great resource for foster families. DCF has support available 24 hours a day and several agencies provide additional limited support to foster families.
I know the stories you all hear about foster care and kids in custody. The absent social worker, the out of control kid, the greedy foster parent. I read the news too. But what you don’t hear about are all of the amazing stories of relationship building and trust.
I recently finished the novel The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and in an interview at the end of the book Ms. Diffenbaugh describes “Foster children and foster parents, like children and adults everywhere, are trying to love and be loved, and to do the best they can with the emotional and material resources they have.” Your average foster parent? Well they are just like you. You see them in the grocery store. At the park. Your kids probably go to school with someone who has experienced foster care. We all have to get through this life somehow and we all need somebody at some point to help pull us along. You can be some child or families someone.
No matter what reasons someone becomes a foster parent seeing a child or parent succeed because of the support you were able to offer is an immeasurable reward.
Please stay tuned for the final chapter of this series on Permanence.