The foster care system is overworked, understaffed, and often ignored by society in a heartbreaking way.
Too often, stories are shared of families finding “forever homes” for infants they worked so hard to adopt. The opposite is true of the foster care system; foster children are often treated with disdain and discomfort, with the families they live with trying hard not to get too attached, in order to protect their own emotions.
Foster mom Sarah shared the very reason that this is the wrong approach to fostering, though.
On the Facebook page Foster Your Heart Out, Sarah shared a post following a heart-wrenching ordeal she went through in a courtroom with one of the children she’s fostered during the years. The post, which quickly went viral before getting picked up by popular parenting blog Scary Mommy, highlighted why so many of these children need the love they’re unfairly deprived of in a system that forces them to grow up way too fast.
“Does anyone want the child?” Sarah wrote, relaying what the judge called out during the hearing for a 16-year-old that had been staying with her family.
No answers. “Are you sure?” the judge asked. “Nobody?”
The hearing concluded with the judge’s quick, callous declaration that the case would be re-visited in a few weeks’ time to go over paperwork, then on to the next issue.
Sarah wrote that many families are worried about what getting attached to a foster child will do to their heart, but reminds her readers of the toll that has on the children themselves. She described the silent tears from the child she was at the courthouse with, who had to sit there with a temporary guardian—in this case, Sarah herself—while a judge all but reminded him that he was unwanted and forgotten.
“A boy sitting next to me hearing every word. A boy who is trying to wipe away the hot tear rolling down his cheek. “
The foster care system has estimated that if one family from every religious congregation in the United States took in a child, there would be no children left uncared for.
That seems like a small, simple request—but it actually highlights exactly how many children are currently slipping through the cracks. Over 400,000 children live in foster care each year in the United States, staying in the system on average for anywhere from six months to over two years. That’s 400,000 children that have to hear what Sarah’s foster son did in the courtroom—“does anyone want this child?”
Sarah went on to urge families to consider getting involved, reminding the community how much better the world becomes when these children are cared for. She insists that the children—even the teenagers, who may not always act like it for the duration of their stay in someone’s home—need love far more than the foster parents need to protect their own emotional reactions when the children leave. It may make a foster parent feel broken to become attached to a child who then leaves again—but for the children themselves, the love they receive (no matter how brief) can make the difference between growing up to lead productive lives and getting caught up in the wrong behaviors.
“We ask them to act like respectful members of society. But we drop them off at strangers homes with everything they own in trash bags and then have them sit through court hearing that would shake any adult.”
“They have to hear nobody wants them or the few people that might are not fit. Then we drop them off at school to handle these emotions. And shake our heads when they are expelled again. We tell them to stay out of trouble and label them as bad kids for outbursts of anger and frustration.”
The nation’s juvenile jails, Sarah argues, are so full because the custody courtrooms are often far too empty.
Statistics back up her pleas.
According to Foster Care advocates Lifting the Veil, one-third of runaways in the United States lived in foster care before they decided the streets were a better option. California statistics estimate that over one-third of children in the foster care system are arrested during their time in the system, and nearly one-half of children who have to leave the system ultimately end up homeless.
Sarah insists that this comes from the way the system is run, including how parents are told to handle the transient nature of the children’s situations. After all, she writes, how can a child be expected to hear in a courtroom that no one wants them, then head home to a family that’s been told not to get attached—and then handle all of those conflicting, heartbreaking emotions when they head to school or a job?
Sarah goes on to recommend that everyone who is able should help out with the foster system in some way. Maybe it’s through becoming a foster parent altogether—but it can also be through dropping off things like paper towels or snacks with foster families in your area, simply providing support when and where you can. Volunteering for short-term organizations or mentoring groups can establish emotional relationships as well; the more love and caring these children are provided during the toughest times in their lives, the better off they’ll be.
The situations that leave children in foster care are never easy to stomach. But, as Sarah insists, the road to a better community starts with helping these children so desperately in need.