By Katie Ferguson, Amara (Estimated reading time: 4 mins)
How much do you know about foster care? Much of what most people think about kids and families involved with child welfare is based on media, which often highlights extreme stories, perpetuates stereotypes, and fails to recognize systemic racism as the cause for the disproportionate number of children in color reflected in the system.
Foster care exists to provide safe, temporary homes for kids who are separated from their families. Most youth are in foster care due to neglect (not abuse), which is often due to poverty. When the state decides a child cannot live with their parents, government social workers do their best to find a relative for kids to stay with, called “kinship caregivers.” When that is not possible, children are placed with foster parents or stay in a group home for as long as they need. The goal of foster care is reunification – that means children return to their home after their family has received services, resources, and support. Most parents work hard towards reunification and the majority are able to do so in Washington after receiving services from the state.
It is important for kids to stay connected to their parents while they are in foster care. When a child is removed from their home, no matter what the situation at home may be, it is deeply traumatic. The state immediately works with parents, caregivers, and attorneys to develop a family-visit plan to maintain and strengthen the parent-child relationship. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has eliminated the ability for in-person visits between family members. The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and private organizations like Amara are doing their best to keep kids connected to their families and provide as much stability as possible during this challenging time.
Amara is an open and affirming nonprofit based in Seattle and Tacoma that supports children in foster care, adoptees, and their families. As soon as the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was put in place, Amara switched to virtual family visits, ensuring that parents and foster families received access to technology so kids could connect with their family members through video or phone calls. Foster Care Specialists have been providing increased support for foster families who are struggling with many of the same challenges that all parents are struggling with right now, on top of the challenges that come with the foster care system. By providing quality support and expertise to foster families, Amara ensures kids have the stability needed to thrive.
A lot of attention within child welfare is placed on recruiting foster parents. We certainly need to ensure that every child who enters foster care has a safe, affirmative, and culturally-appropriate home for as long as they need. (Learn more about becoming a foster parent). What we don’t give as much attention to is retaining foster parents who have already stepped up. That’s where I think most of us can fit in. A few simple acts of “neighborliness” can go a long way in helping foster families feel supported by their community, instead of being on their own. The same is true for all families. We can do so much more, as a state and a community, to advocate for supportive programs and services so that fewer kids and families experience the foster care system to begin with.
Still, there are children in foster care now and families who, like all of us, are strengthened by the support and care of community. Every child deserves a welcoming, warm home when they cannot be with their families. Your support of foster families is crucially important to providing stability for youth. If you know someone who is fostering, reach out and see how they’re doing. Offer a listening ear, send takeout, or simply ask what they need right now. If you don’t know anyone who is fostering, you can make an impact for families by supporting organizations like Amara through donating, volunteering, or sharing stories to expand the community of support.
For more information about foster care in our community, visit: