Mythbusters Foster Care style

Between TV, movies, word of mouth, and a little imaginative creativity there are a lot of “facts” floating around about the foster care process, requirements, and system as a whole.

Some of the “facts” repeated are emotionally-tweaked personal stories, embellishments, and downright lies due to misinformation or lack of understanding. It is our responsibility as The CALL, as Christians, as people in general, to make sure we’re not spreading wrong information and that the right information is getting out there.

The following is a list of myths and the correlating facts so you are equip with the tools you need to share the word about foster care accurately.

*Statements marked with an asterisk are actually quotes from people regarding foster care.*

Myth: The restrictions on being foster parents are ridiculous. There are good families willing to step up but can’t.*

Fact: The requirements to be a foster parent are not too restrictive.

  • You must be between 21-65 years old to be a foster parent.
  • You can be either single or married. The Department of Children and Family Services will even allow unmarried couples living together become foster families as long as they can prove a stable relationship. This includes same-sex couples. (The CALL has stricter standards on the matter.)
  • Despite the fact that you will receive financial assistance for foster children, you will need to prove that you are financially stable. You must be able to provide the needs for the people living in your home. No dollar amount income guideline is listed in the requirements.
  • You need to be in good health.
  • Each child must have 50 square feet of bedroom space to live in.
  • Everyone over 18 must pass a background check.
  • You must complete 30 hours of training and CPR.

All of the above requirements are to ensure that the children are treated well while they’re in care. Most of the above requirements are things you should ask yourself before you start the process of fostering.

Myth: There needs to be a faster process to get people approved.*

Fact: The given time frame to open as a foster home is typically between 6-9 months, but can take up to a year or a little longer. Part of this is dependent on the state, but also depends on the individual family.

Paperwork cannot be processed until it is filled out entirely and turned in. Sometimes people turn in paperwork that isn’t complete and DCFS cannot finish processing it until the complete paperwork is filed. Waiting for someone to turn in that one piece of paperwork can delay the process.

If you’ve lived in multiple states, background checks must be completed and returned for each state. This can delay the process depending on how long it takes for the other states to respond.

If something pops up on your background check that needs to be further investigated (sometimes these things are minor) it can cause a delay. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting paperwork from a misdemeanor in your past or something similar. Depending on how long it takes to turn in the paperwork DCFS is asking for, the process could be delayed.

If someone cannot attend PRIDE training when it is given or if they have to make up part of the classes, that will cause a delay.

There are only so many people in each county licensed to perform home studies. Once a person has completed the other requirements, they’re placed on a list to get a home study. Depending on how many other people are at that same point of the process it could take more/less time than anticipated to get the home study done.

The process moves like this: Attend an informational meeting, complete background paperwork, attend PRIDE training, get CPR certified, get fingerprinted, have home study, open your home. There isn’t any part of that process that can be eliminated for to make it take less time. Aside from hiring more people (remember where government employees get their paychecks from), there’s no way to rush the other parts of the process. Yes, there are sometimes hang ups in the process because of human/technology error, but that happens in every aspect of life and can’t be controlled.

Myth:  A lot of foster parents are just in it for the check.*

Fact: The state does NOT pay enough money to foster parents for them to be “making money”. 

A foster parent taking care of an infant receives $410 a month in child support. They break that down like this: Board and care $350, clothing $45, and personal needs $15. Here’s what that foster parent will spend during the month: $100 in diapers, $120 in formula (more or less depending on special needs), $30 on bath stuff/pacifiers/teething stuff/replacement bottles, and $50+ on gas money driving to court/visitations. That adds up to $300 a month AT LEAST that the foster parent needs to pay for the necessities. That doesn’t include the increase in the water, gas, and/or electric bill which is probably around $50 a month. Once all of that is taken out the foster parents are left with (roughly) $60 at the end of the month. That $60 is not “making money” when you’re talking about taking care of an infant that doesn’t belong to you for 24 hours a day changing tons of diaper, feeding every three hours, sleeping about 5 hours a night, and all the other things that come with taking care of a baby.

Even if a foster parent was able to pocket a few dollars at the end of the month, think about this: Daycares are paid $100+ a month to take care of children 40 hours a week. The workers are paid roughly $320 a week (before taxes) to take care of these children. Thinking that foster parents foster to get a paycheck is like saying teachers teach to get a paycheck — it doesn’t make any sense.

On top of being physically responsible for a child the same way all parents are, foster parents have extra responsibilities as foster parents. They have visitations to take the kids to (sometimes more than once a week), meetings with their caseworker, meetings with the child’s “team” to discuss the case, court to attend, 12+ hours of continuing education training to attend yearly, and periodic inspections of their house to think about. If there are multiple children in the home that means multiple weekly visitations, multiple meetings, and multiple court dates. It’s not a bad thing to give the families a small compensation for all of the extra work they’re doing. If anything they should given more.

Myth: They won’t let everyday people foster, you have to have big money. Money isn’t important when these kids need love. I have plenty of love to give.*

Fact: There is no strict income guideline to become of foster parent. A person only has to prove that they are financially stable and can provide the needs of the people in their home. Love is NOT all these kids need.

If a person or couple is struggling to pay their current bills, it doesn’t make sense to add to it by adding more children in the home. Yes, they receive a monthly stipend  (see the above myth/fact). However, you are not compensated for loss of wages due to court, doctors appointments, visitations, etc…

Financial struggles can cause stress in the household and can cause marital issues and frustration with the adults in the home. This situation mimics what many of these children have been taken out of. These children don’t need to be worried that their needs are going to be met in their foster home.They shouldn’t have to worry about the discord between foster parents  or how financial stress will make the foster parent(s) act towards them.

Many of these children have been abused in ways we can’t imagine, neglected, and left without their basic needs. To say “love is all they need” is a naive statement. These children do need love, but love will not conquer their emotional/physical traumas, lack of education, fear of abandonment, or fear of going hungry. These kids need stability. They need to know that all of their physical needs are going to be met along with their emotional needs.

Myth: I am a 64 year old grandmother raising a teenage granddaughter and she has been such a joy in my life. I know lots of people my age, single and married that would be glad to help but are “too old”.*

Fact: The age range to foster is 21-65 years old. There are legitimate reasons for these guidelines, however, sometimes exceptions are made.

Most people over 60 years old are not looking to foster. If they are, it’s typically because they’re trying to foster a grandchild or other relative. In cases of kinship, DCFS looks at not only age, but the actual physical health of the individual. Regardless of age, if a person has health issues they may not be able to foster due to a possible inability to take care of a child.

The concern of someone over the age of 65 fostering has more to do with the ability to care for a younger child with significant trauma or handle the acting out of a hurting teenager.

There is a need for foster parents, but it doesn’t do any good to train foster parents that are not going to be able to handle the children in their care. There are a lot of people over 65 that may be capable of fostering, but many of them cannot. This is a precaution that is necessary in order to do what is in the best interest of the children.

Myth:   A lot of these kids probably have family willing to take them but DCFS won’t give them custody because they are out of state, have a drug charge from younger age, etc.*

Fact: DCFS has a lot of different things to consider when placing a child in a home. If a family member is out of state it damages the chances of reunification. Past drug addiction is something to take into consideration because it does no good to place a child in a similar situation to what they were living in with their biological parents.

The number one goal of DCFS is reunification with the biological parents. The best way to motivate the biological parents to do what they’re supposed to do and get better is to have frequent visitations. If a child is placed with a family member out of the state it will make visitation very difficult and might damage the possibility of the children going back to their parents. While DCFS is working towards reunification with the biological family they will also simultaneously be working on the backup plan if termination happens. This is when DCFS will be looking at family members who are willing/able to take the child(ren). A family member living out of state doesn’t disqualify them from being permanently placed, but it may prevent them from being a foster parent before rights are terminated.

Past drug addiction and any other red flags in a family member’s past is definitely something to not be overlooked. Many of these kids come from homes with drug addicted parents. What good would it do a child to put them at risk of being placed in a home with another family member that might be at higher risk of doing drugs?

In the end, DCFS has to do what is in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child may be for them to be permanently placed with someone who isn’t family that doesn’t have a history of drugs or other questionable things in their past. It may not be what the family wants, but DCFS isn’t responsible for making the family happy, they’re responsible for keeping the child safe. All of this is decided on a case by case basis.

Myth: The State has no real intention of giving families their kids back even when they do everything they are supposed to be doing and it is sickening.*

Fact: This myth has no real factual foundation. The number one goal of DCFS is reuniting children and their biological families. DCFS, CASA, and even the foster families can give their opinion on whether or not the child(ren) should be returned back to the biological family, but the final decision is made by the judge. A judge can either go with the recommendation of DCFS or rule against it.

Biological parents have to prove that they have changed the circumstances that got the child(ren) taken away in the first place. If they were on drugs, they have to prove that they can stay off of the drugs and stay away from people doing drugs. They have to prove they have a safe and clean home for the child to go back to. They are required to show that they have a stable job with sufficient enough income to provide the needs for their child(ren). This includes making sure they have housing assistance, SNAP benefits, and other government assistance if they qualify. Biological families are required to attend parenting classes and possibly other classes or support groups depending on why the children were taken into custody. The biological parents are not being asked to do anything above and beyond what is expected and socially acceptable of other parents.

Some biological parents are not to do what is necessary to get their kids back. Many of them show up at court and/or visitations unable to pass a drug test. They’re more worried about getting their next fix than they are fixing up a bedroom for their child.

DCFS workers typically do everything they can to get biological parents to do what they’re supposed to do. They meet with them and go over what they’re supposed to do and they’re often met with adults acting like children or angry parents just demanding their kids back without any promise to change. Some biological parents don’t even think they’ve done anything wrong which means they’re not planning to change.

Biological parents are given between 12-18 months (depending on what the judge orders) to do what is necessary to get their child(ren) back. Many of them don’t even start to make an effort to change until close to the 12 month mark when reality sets in that they might lose their children.

The statistics (which can be found online at the DHS website) show that out of all of the children returned to the biological parents, nearly 50% of them are taken into custody again within a year. DCFS and the judges have to make judgment calls based on what they’ve seen the biological parents do and what they’re hoping they will continue to do in the future. DCFS does not get pleasure out of keeping children from their biological parents. They see what kind of damage it does to keep them in foster care without a sense of permanency. They know there’s a lack of foster homes. They want to send as many children home to their biological parents as possible AND keep them safe.

Myth: Arkansas needs to let these loving and caring families adopt, but nope that will NEVER happen. DHS workers make way to much MONEY by keeping these innocent babies in Foster Homes! Start letting these innocent babies be adopted out and not only will they be at peace, but look at how much money it will save the hardworking tax payers.*

Fact: DCFS cannot push for reunification as the number one goal if they’re rushing to adopt children out. The biological families deserve the opportunity to get their children back. DCFS workers do not make nearly the amount of money that they should in order to do the job that they do. The majority of children in foster care do not want to be separated from their biological parents.

Biological families have a right to fight to get their kids back. They have a right to their day in court to prove they deserve their kids because this is America. The system may be flawed, but rushing into adoption doesn’t fix the problem it just creates new ones.

A Family Service Worker starts out making around $30,000 a year and their salary caps at about $53,000 a year according to Arkansas state records. A teacher makes between $30,000 and $56,000 a year. A football coach in Beebe has the ability to make more than a social worker that has to make home visits and put themselves in the line of fire of angry parents literally and figuratively. They have between 20-30 different cases, sometimes with multiple children, at one time. The fact is that less cases would make things easier on them. They’re not keeping the kids in custody in order to make commission off of the kids in care.

Most children do not want to be taken away from their parents permanently. Despite what their parents did, they’re still their parents. They are willing to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly if it means being with their parents. To prematurely terminate parental rights and throw a child into a new home would damage a child just as much or more as placing them in a foster home or placing them back with the biological parents too soon. Very few children, even teenagers, have the ability to see what is best for them and if given the choice they’d rather go back to a rat-infested, neglectful home with their biological parents than be placed with a different family.

Myth: What needs to be done is that the state stop taking kids unless it is a deadly situation or sexual abuse.*

Fact: Is that really what America is about? Children being forced to live in questionable conditions because it isn’t considered “deadly” and it keeps them out of being foster care? Children deserve to grow up in an environment where they can thrive and grow into productive adults. 

A house infested with roaches because there’s trash and food all over the ground wouldn’t necessarily be considered a “deadly situation”. Using restraints as a form of punishment isn’t necessarily considered deadly, but is it OK for a child to live in that situation? A child only eating once a day isn’t considered deadly, but it’s not healthy.

Children who are abused, neglected, or are going without meals will not do well in school. They may or may not make passing grades. You can’t focus on school work when you’re hungry. Statistically these children will grow up to be low-income and repeat the same pattern their parents set for them. Why? They weren’t taught any better and they don’t have any kind of education. Many of them grow up addicted to drugs and alcohol like their parents. The situation may not be “deadly”, but that doesn’t mean a child should have to live in it. We would not want our children growing up in that environment, why should we doom other children to that fate?

Myth: DHS should not be so fast to take and not give back a child. The parents are young and need help not take away the child and never get the child back. Sometimes DHS over steps their authority.*

Fact: In most cases, DCFS is not “fast” in taking children and like stated before, judges make the final ruling on when a child goes back to their parents — not DCFS. DCFS does help parents, whether young or old, do what they need to do to get their children back.

One of two things opens a DCFS investigation: The police show up at a home because of a complaint and they contact child services OR someone else calls the hotline and files a complaint. When a complaint is made, DCFS is REQUIRED to follow up and make a home visit and investigate the allegations. Once DCFS investigates, if they decide to take the children, the next step is to gather evidence and go before a judge and request that the children be placed into foster care. This step happens within a few days.

The judge looks at the presented evidence and makes the final decision — not DCFS. If the judge decides the children are to go into foster care, the judge orders the list of things the biological parents must do to get their children back and in what time frame. Sometimes the judge says 12 months. Sometimes they extend it to 18 months. It’s up to the judge.

Once the judge makes the ruling and determines what the parents must do to get their children back, DCFS works with the biological parents to get those things accomplished. Sometimes the biological parents are eager to complete the necessary tasks and sometimes they just give up. Many of the biological parents show up late, high, or not at all to the required visitations with their children. DCFS gives them a list a resources and a way to get what they need done accomplished, but they can’t force biological parents to follow through. If they don’t follow through within the time frame the judge set, the judge can either move for termination or give them more time. As mentioned before, DCFS can only make recommendations — it’s the judge that makes all the final decisions.

Myth: If they would follow federal law and place children in kinship homes this would not be an issue!*

Fact:  Federal law under title IV-E of the Social Security Act requires that they “consider giving preference to an adult relative over a non-related caregiver when determining placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant State child protection standards.” 

When a child is taken into care, DCFS makes an effort to find an immediate family member that is willing and able to take the child. If a family friend or other person close to the child, called fictive kin, steps up and shows a desire to foster the child then DCFS will pursue that as a possibility.

If a family member or fictive kin is denied the chance to foster the child there are several possible reasons why. Even though the person is family, they still have to go through the same process to become a foster parent. They have to complete the background info and go through PRIDE training. The time table is different for relatives, but they still have to do all the necessary steps. If they fail to pass the background check, then they will not likely be able to foster.

It’s possible that DCFS has concerns about whether or not the family member will allow the biological parents around the child outside of the parameters set by DCFS. If the family member has opinions about the biological parents that might hurt the relationship between the child and the biological family hindering reunification, DCFS may decide a different placement is necessary. If the family member lives several hours away it may cause issues with visitation and hinder reunification.

Here’s the bottom line:

When people talk about the “facts” of foster care, make sure they are actually telling facts — not retelling embellished, twisted tales about rumors they’ve heard. Spreading these myths damages the chances of families opening up to foster and inevitably hurts the children.