May is National Foster Care Month, which is a cause I am very passionate about because of the work I do with Colorado Access. I am working in the psychiatric emergency department at Children’s Hospital Colorado and frequently encounter children who are in foster care, were adopted by their families through foster care, or are involved in the child welfare system while remaining in their home with their family, but still receive support through the county for various services that are not covered through other funding sources. Through my work, I have grown to truly appreciate the value of these programs which are designed to help keep families together and protect our future generations.
Several years ago, before I started working with children involved in the foster care system, my partner and I were watching the evening news and the topic of child welfare came up in our conversation. I expressed that I had always wanted to become a foster parent. I had this rosy perspective that I would be able to impact the lives of young people and help them through crisis long enough to be reunited with their families and everyone would live happily ever after. This led me to do my own research around the history of foster care, some common misconceptions, protections in place for children in the foster care system, benefits to becoming a foster parent and how to become a foster parent.
National Foster Care Week was an initiative started by The Children’s Bureau, which is an office within The Department of Health and Human Services. Foster Care Week was enacted in 1972 by President Nixon to raise awareness of the needs of youth in the foster system and recruit foster parents. From there, May was designated as National Foster Care Month by President Reagan in 1988. Prior to 1912, child welfare and foster care programs were mainly run by private and religious organizations. In 1978, The Foster Children Bill of Rights was published, which has been enacted in 14 states and Puerto Rico. These statutes establish certain protections for youth in the foster care system, excluding those in custody of Division of Youth Services and state mental hospitals.
These protections for children up to age 18, in most cases, include:
- Promotion of school stability
- Freedom to maintain an emancipation bank account
- Protection around administration of prescription medication unless authorized by a physician
- Youth between 16 and 18 are ensured by the court to receive free credit reports to help protect against identity theft
- Foster parents and group home providers are required to make reasonable efforts to allow youth to engage in extracurricular, cultural, educational, work-related, and personal enrichment activities.
Foster care is supposed to be a temporary option designed to help parents put supports in place to be able to care for their children. This program was designed with the intention to reunify families. In Colorado, 4,804 children were placed in foster care in 2020, down from 5,340 in 2019. This down trend is thought to be a result of children being out of school during COVID-19. With fewer teachers, counselors, and after-school activities, there were fewer mandatory reporters and other concerned adults to report concerns of neglect and abuse. It is important to mention that when a call is made regarding concerns for safety of a child, this does not mean the child will automatically be removed. When a concern is reported, an intake caseworker will follow up and decide if the concerns are justified, if the child is in immediate danger and if the situation can be improved with a little help. The county Department of Human Services will then make every effort to help resolve the concerns by providing resources and support to the family if the child is not assessed to be in immediate danger. A significant amount of funding and resources are allocated to help families with getting their needs met. If a child is removed from the home, the first question that is asked is regarding a kinship provider. A kinship provider is a placement option with other family members, close friends of the family or a trusted adult which is intended to maintain the community and familial bond. Foster homes are not always group homes or with strangers who have volunteered to open their hearts and homes to children in need. Of the 4,804 children in foster care, there were only 1,414 foster homes available in Colorado.
So how would I become a foster parent, should my partner and I agree to move forward? In Colorado, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and marital status will not affect your ability to become a foster parent. Requirements include being over the age of 21, owning or renting a home, having adequate means to financially support yourself and having the emotional stability to provide love, structure, and compassion for children. The process involves getting CPR and first aid certified, a home study where a caseworker will evaluate the home for safety, background check and ongoing parenting classes. Foster children are eligible for Medicaid up to age 18. Foster children are also eligible for a stipend for school related expenses for college after age 18. Some foster children may be eligible for adoption through foster care placement once all efforts have been exhausted to reunite the family. Child placement agencies and The County Department of Human Services Child Protection frequently host informational meetings about how to become a foster parent. Adoption can be a very expensive process. By choosing to become a foster parent, families can adopt children that are no longer in the custody of biological parents, with most expenses paid by the county Department of Human Services.
I think we can all agree every child deserves to grow up in a happy, stable home. I am grateful to the families who make the choice to open their homes and hearts to children in need. It is not an easy choice but it is an important opportunity to show up for a child in need. I feel like I am lucky to work so closely with foster families, caseworkers, and youth involved in the foster care system.
Children in foster care | KIDS COUNT Data Center https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6243-children-in-foster-care?loc=1&loct=2&msclkid=172cc03b309719d18470a25c658133ed&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Foster%20Care%20-%20Topics&utm_term=what%20is%20foster%20care&utm_content=What%20is%20Foster%20Care#detailed/2/7/false/574,1729,37,871,870,573,869,36,868,867/any/12987
Foster Care Colorado | Adoption.com Foster Care Colorado | Adoption.com https://adoption.com/foster-care-colorado#:~:text=Also%2C%20children%20in%20foster%20care%20are%20eligible%20for,Can%20I%20Adopt%20My%20Child%20From%20Foster%20Care%3F