The Doctor Is In!

Reformed, and always reforming.

I heard that phrase the other day.  To be sure, it was a phrase that I took some time to reflect upon recently, in so many areas of my life.  As a parent, as a husband, as a member of the community, and in foster care.

Yes, foster care needs reform.

It always has, and it always will. As the world continues to change, foster care will need to change with it.

I often tell foster parents that I work with that there are 50 different states in the United States, and each state does foster care a little bit differently.  Each state has its own specific policies and procedures, rules and regulations. This means 50 different ways of doing foster care.  In addition, each agency within each state may also have its own individual agency policies and procedures. As a result, there are so many different ways of doing foster care in the United States, and no one agency or no one state does it perfectly.  To be sure, some states and some agencies do it better than others, yet each can be improved in some fashion.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that celebrity actress and foster/adoptive mother Jen Lilley were recently in Washington D.C., meeting with legislators on both sides of the political aisle, in an attempt to bring reform to foster care. In truth, reform needs to happen in many areas in foster care.

In regards to rules and policies, 2020 saw many of the rules "go out the window", so to speak in regards to all things foster care.  Covid has changed, and continues to change, the rules in so many areas of our lives, and in society.  So many of these changes were ones we may never have expected, never have anticipated 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago. Changes no one of foresaw, or even imagined.

Covid has changed foster care as we know it, as well, and foster care agencies have been scrambling to adjust and to reform, if you will, to these new and unexpected challenges.  Indeed, as Covid continues to change our society on a daily basis, foster care agencies and child welfare programs are trying to also meet these needs, on a daily basis, too.

The past year, I have heard over and over again from foster parents across the nation that they are in desperate need of help.  Foster parents are often saying to me, “I have to take care of my own job.  Yet, I now have to also be the teacher to the child placed in my home, and I’m not a teacher.  I also have to be their professional therapist, and I’m not trained in this area.  What do I do?” For so many children in foster care, they are not getting their professional counseling sessions, they’re not getting their drug counseling, they’re not getting visitations with their own birth parents in a face to face meetings, meetings that are detrimental not only to the reunification process, but to that of issues of attachment, trust, the family unit, and sometimes of mental health.

The anxiety levels of so many children in care right now is off the charts, for so many reasons since Covid, and foster parents are struggling with that.  Indeed, the anxieties from their own personal trauma may be so severe to the child that it feels as if their entire world is falling apart. Covid has only exasperated this, and triggered deeper issues of anxiety, as well. Issues from anxiety can manifest themselves in a number of ways. Professional therapy and counseling is essential for the well-being of the child.

Foster parents feel like they are not getting support right now. Foster parents also feel like they are not getting the resources right now, either. And right now, caseworkers are scrambling to try to figure out how to get the foster parents the support that they need. There is the growing concern that we are going to see foster parents quit because they are so filled with anxiety they are facing and feeling.

Foster families always rely on community support, but they need it more than ever now. Foster parents need a number of training hours and CEUs each year, in order to remain licensed as a foster care home, with each state setting the number of hours required each year. With Covid, foster parents have found it increasingly difficult in regards to attaining their required training hours. Foster parents also need more online support services, including online orientations, social media support groups, and more virtual training opportunities.

One of the challenges that foster care has faced during Covid has been that of visitations.

Often times, visitations take place at child welfare offices, while other times, visitations may occur at public places, such as parks, restaurants, churches, and other public venues. Visitations are important as they help to maintain the relationship between both child and adult. Along with this, many foster parents have very strong relationships with the birth parents and during visitations, trust is built and children can grow and develop in a healthy fashion, as a result. Many agencies have had to suspend monthly visits with foster care families. Other agencies are reforming this part of their policy by having virtual visitations in the foster care home.

For some foster parents, Covid has disrupted important services for the children, and the foster families. Essential services such as therapy sessions, drug counseling, and even court appearances have also been affected by Covid 19. Many agencies are having to re-think, and reform, how they provide services for their foster parent, and for the children. 

We often hear about school reform, and have heard this well before Covid.  School has also placed additional stress upon foster care agencies and parents. So many questions abound for those foster parents and for the children in care. Will school open back up? Will foster parents have to stay at home while children placed in their family have to go to school online? How do foster parents help their child online? So many questions, indeed. So much anxiety, for all involved. Many foster parents are unable to provide the educational support the children may need while learning at home through Distance Learning. Some foster care agencies are discovering that those children at home are not engaging in their work during Covid 19.  More reform needs to be placed upon children in foster care while in school.

Today’s caseworkers feel overworked, overwhelmed, under-resourced, and they certainly are underpaid. Like so many others, caseworkers are now working from home, and are unable to visit their foster parents, and many times not be able to provide the assistance and resources they need, including face to face interactions that may be necessary on occasion. Agencies need to ensure that their caseworkers are safe and not at risk. In addition, our caseworkers need to be given more time, more funding, more resources, and more understanding from the public, from the courts, and from foster parents during this time of Covid.

As Covid has led to many agencies being understaffed, there have been delays in new foster parents being trained and licensed, birth parents have met difficulties in attaining the requirements for reunification, and the adoption process for those children who are unable to be reunified has slowed, as well. In the end, many times these policies and regulations foster families, case workers, and children in care from living as “normal” a lifestyle, leading to frustration on many levels. There needs to be less paperwork, less “red tape” and more action on behalf of the child.

Reformed and always reforming.  Let us all embrace this philosophy as a wonderful challenge to make the foster care system a better one for all, now and in the future.

-Dr. John DeGarmo