Changing Perceptions of Foster Care

In the past 30 years, there has been a gradual and inexorable shift towards a positive view of children in foster care. Less often than not, I talk to families who have come into contact with foster children and invite them over to play and engage with their children and extended families. There are of course, still many families that view foster children with some negativity, and others that are curious and sympathetic but do not engage. Yet, more and more American families are inclined to include foster children in their communities. No small measure to the interest generated by celebrities and by shows like “Fosters” and other shows. The famous orphan, “Annie” is much loved and seen more as a foster child and the media and Churches speak more to this issue, the tragedies that young people experience with homelessness and lack of rootedness – there is a growing awareness of inclusive acceptance rather than exclusive fear.

Foster care per se has been in the news frequently in a negative light with mainly agencies and professionals in the field discussing and highlighting the negatives. The poor outcomes, the struggles with dysfunction, the disruptions in bonds and relationships and the adult maladjustment all make the news while our young foster children form friendships and relationships with teachers, other foster children and their new foster parents; learn new skills and struggle with attachment issues. But, each child is a product of genetics and environment with genetics being influential more so than environment to the tune of 80-20 percent-wise. Therefore, parental influences and the child’s struggles to overcome all play a role and the societal attitudes that are more accepting than before help with the expression of the 20%.

Foster children are the most vulnerable children in our society. We can change their futures and we can change the outcome of their childhoods. However, it does take a village to care for children and the more the training on trauma and its treatment and teaching coping skills that perhaps their parents did not have, much of the outcome could change. I remain hopeful therefore that our children can succeed more than ever before, as we have incredibly successful techniques to help our children and youth handle anger and rejection in ways their parents who lost custody could not.

To continue to change attitudes with a hint of humor, positive examples, focus on success stories, and focus on research and improving therapeutic techniques and especially on improving foster parents’ training and therapeutic trainings, we can improve the outcomes and continue to change attitudes towards foster children and youth.