It is, without a doubt, true that the U.S. foster care system is complex and often misunderstood. Historically, out of home care has often been sensationalized in mass media, used as a narrative premise that promotes misinformation, or is not covered with care, adequate research, or tact. Additionally, the child welfare system is ever-changing and out of home care, including foster care, has faced many transformations over the last 100 years. As a result, a number of myths and misconceptions of foster care have come to the surface. As a provider of a unique model of foster care, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois is helping to set the record straight and create a greater understanding of the facts of this special system within child welfare. Here are eight myths and misconceptions we would like to dispel in 2020.
1. “There are not many children in foster care, so it isn’t a big issue.”
In the United States alone, there are nearly 440,00 children and teens in foster care, ranging from infancy to young adulthood. To put this number in perspective: There are more children in foster care than there are people in Minneapolis. In fact, it would take ten Wrigley Fields to hold the number of children in foster care. As the number of children in foster care continues to climb, it is important more now than ever to recognize the foster care crisis and work as a national community to provide hope and healing to the nearly half-million children within the system this year.
At SOS Illinois, we are working to bring awareness of this crucial statistic in order to shine a light on the need for kindhearted Foster Parents, generous donors and partners, and supportive staff members and volunteers, including caseworkers, therapists, and volunteer virtual tutors.
2. “Most children in foster care have experienced physical abuse. I cannot handle that.”
The majority of children in the U.S. foster care system have been placed within protective custody due to suspected or proven instances of neglect in the home. Often, these stem from larger systemic issues, such as poverty, drug use and addiction, incarceration, and homelessness. These elements are also, at times, out of a biological parents’ control, such as life-long exposure to these harms, systemic racism and racial bias, and more. While intentional neglect should be seen as a form of abuse, many children end up in foster care because their biological parent or parents are struggling and need supportive resources, assistance, and tools to effectively parent.
For those who have experienced abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual – having the appropriate resources to use while providing care to these children is essential in creating a safe and loving environment. As such, SOS Illinois provides ongoing training to all Foster Parents in order to ensure that each child who enters our community will be cared for by a Foster Parent equipped to provide loving, compassionate guidance and safety. Additionally, on-site clinical therapists offer wellness care to help combat the after-effects of physical abuse, such as PTSD.
3. “Foster Parents are just in it for the money.”
Regardless of whether a Foster Parent serves within SOS Illinois or within a community agency program, no one is “getting rich” from providing foster care. While there are certainly instances where adults within the community open their homes for foster care in order to receive state-allocated stipend checks meant to provide the essentials for each child, these cases are often screened out through background checks, interviews, and other measures.
At SOS Illinois, our screening and application process is rigorous in order to ensure that each adult that enters into our community is joining for the right reasons – a deep desire to serve children, make a difference, and transform lives.
4. “Single adults cannot be foster parents.”
Within many agencies, including at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, single adults are just as desired to serve as foster parents as married couples. In fact, the majority of professional Foster Parents at SOS Illinois serve as single Foster Parents. As SOS Illinois Foster Parents serve as full-time caregivers to our children as paid employees, being the sole Foster Parent in the home is easier to manage, and having on-site resources helps cut down on commuting times and out-of-home requirements.
5. “LGBTQ+ adults cannot be foster parents.”
LGBTQ+ adults serving as foster parents continue to gain recent debate in the United States, as certain states maintain the ability to deny LGBTQ+ adults foster parenting and adoption opportunities. Though private agencies are often able to enforce their own policies on accepting LGBTQ singles and couples, SOS Illinois is proud to welcome loving, caring adults regardless of sexual orientation or gender presentation.
In fact, SOS Illinois believes that our diversity makes us stronger, so we actively recruit LGBTQ+ Foster Parents who offer an important perspective and value to our community (especially to the children and teens in our care who are LGBTQ+).
6. “All children in foster care are awaiting adoption. I’ll get to adopt the children I foster.”
One of the most common misconceptions of foster care is that every child in foster care is eligible for adoption. Of the nearly 440,000 children in foster care, around 100,000 of those are eligible for adoption at any given time. That means that less than 25% of all children in foster care are awaiting adoption. Most of the children within the foster care system have a “permanency plan” (a forever home action plan) that prioritizes returning home to a biological parent or parents. As parents receive the support and resources they need to continue in-home parenting, the majority of these children eventually are able to continue on with their permanency plan as intended.
As a result, most of those who serve as Foster Parents at SOS Illinois (and foster parents elsewhere) do not adopt the children in their care. Although it does happen – and we celebrate each of these cases, such as with Sandra Marbeth and Tevin Marbeth – we ensure that our Foster Parents understand the ultimate purpose of their role to provide short-term, compassionate care to sibling groups in need.
7. “Children in foster care cannot achieve the same level of success as their peers.”
Children and teens in foster care face circumstances and challenges beyond those of their peers, including relationship development, educational achievement, and emotional stability. However, these barriers and adverse experiences are not automatic disqualifiers for success, especially not for those who enter into our community.
For the children and teens in the care of SOS Illinois, support from full-time Foster Parents, on-site case managers, clinical therapists, and volunteers provides opportunities for achievement. Whether supporting the needs of an IEP, helping to catch up to academic milestones, healing from trauma, or providing advocacy in the courtroom and beyond, our entire supportive family provides encouragement for each child and teen in our care to reach their full potential. As a result, SOS Illinois once again celebrated a 100% high school graduation rate in 2020, making it our 16th in a row!
8. “As a foster parent, I’m at it alone and need to seek out support and resources on my own.”
Being a successful foster really takes the support of a community, whether family members, close friends, fellow foster parents, mentors, or community leaders. Wherever you choose to foster, resources to point to when facing questions, difficulty, or challenges are often suggested by the agency’s staff. There are also plenty of online support groups and communities specifically geared towards building networks of foster parents who can guide one another.
Additionally, fostering in a community foster care model and the SOS Illinois model of foster care hold a number of unique differences, including the kind of support offered alongside the position. At SOS Illinois, our Village Model of Care provides wrap-around services for our youth and comprehensive resources for our Foster Parents. This includes easy, on-site access to their children’s case managers, clinical therapists, education and activities coordinators, and more. Additionally, ongoing on-site training and Foster Parent-focused special events and programs provide a community of resources, tools, and mutual guidance so that each of our Foster Parents have what they need to succeed. Additionally, as our Foster Parents are salaried, benefits-eligible employees, working inside of our Villages is their sole responsibility, and outside employment or worrying about car payments, mortgages or rent, and more, become a thing of the past!
Building the Future of Foster Care
Though these eight myths and misconceptions only begin to scratch the surface of misunderstandings about the foster care system, SOS Illinois believes in helping to set the record straight in order to create greater understanding of the challenges and rewards of serving as a Foster Parent (whether with us or not), and the obstacles and opportunities navigated by youth in foster care.
You can help us educate others about the foster care system and our unique Village Model of Care at SOS Illinois by subscribing to our e-newsletter, sharing our posts on social media, or joining us as a Foster Parent, staff member, volunteer tutor, or donor.