The Challenge

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

(Margaret Mead)

The Systems Are Failing

The systems designed to serve our foster children are failing. We remove children from neglectful and abusive homes with the best of intentions. The systems designed to protect and advance these children once they are in public care, however, have performed poorly. Data on outcomes which suggests how badly we have served these children have been presented in Chapter Three. The systems need to be changed. That is the challenge.

Welfare departments are surprised when foster parents want or demand a say about the children in their care. Foster parents are baffled when welfare departments oppose giving them any voice. The problem lies in their differing views of parenting.

Many welfare departments and agencies view foster care homes as boarding houses or hotels, as a place where children simply are provided with food, clothing, and shelter. Emotions are not involved. To many child welfare workers, it seems as unnecessary and troublesome for foster parents to have a say about the children as for a hotel manager to concern himself with the lives of his residents. For many welfare workers and child care agencies, bonding simply does not happen in a foster home. If it does occur, it is ignored. This may explain why some caseworkers seem to have minimal concern about moving children from home to home.

Professionals may contribute to this view when they approach bonding as a skill that can be learned in a therapist’s office. They may believe that children can easily learn to adjust to loss and adapt to new situations. The truth is otherwise. Bonding is not a skill. It is a deep-seated empathic response. Interrupting bonded relationships, as noted in Chapter Three, can cause irremediable harm.

Foster parents are the only ones with everyday knowledge of the children in their care. If they have had the child on a daily basis for three months or more, bonding may have occurred. Foster parents should have a significant voice at case conferences and in court. They do not.

Change never comes easily. A failure to understand the importance of bonding in the lives of children is at the heart of our inaction. Our ignorance breeds complacency. How many times has a caseworker said: “She will be all right. She is in a good foster home.” Hopefully, some of the stories and data in this book will cause enough discomfort to inform and motivate those in control. A change in knowledge and attitude must precede a change in the way people do things. Considerable pressure must be applied to overcome inertia.

Creating a sense of urgency is the first step. Change takes time; time which growing and developing children do not have. Childhood is a relatively brief period to prepare for adult life. The clock is ticking while children linger in foster care, waiting for those in charge to follow the mandated guidelines.