May is National Foster Care Month, an excellent time to recognize and acknowledge families, professionals, and Foster Parents who work tirelessly to ensure a safe place for children to live and grow. It’s also an opportunity to examine the importance of permanence in an often unpredictable world.
Foster care offers a safe place for children when their biological families cannot meet their basic needs for care and protection. Uprooting a child from what they know, even if it’s a dangerous or neglectful environment, is traumatizing. It thrusts a child into uncertainty, shattering any sense of stability they had. Due to the pandemic, we all know that uncertainty is extremely stressful.
The Importance of Stability
Living and spending time in a loving, secure and stable environment is incredibly important for all people. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, are loved, and are cared for, which is especially important for children and young people who cannot live with their biological families. A safe, secure, and loving home that is consistent and nurturing makes a big difference for children in foster care.
Children who experience instability, especially at an early stage of development, are under stress. Neuroscience shows that when a child is stressed from consistent poverty, abuse, or insecurity, they overproduce the stress hormone cortisol responsible for brain architecture, impacting both emotional and physical health. Recent studies indicate that stress also affects the body’s immune system.
Stress can lead to unintended consequences for a child, such as behavior, academic, social problems, and problems with substance abuse and impulse control. It can also cause regressive behavior and changes in eating, sleeping, school performance, relationships, and motivation.
Creating Stability and Permanency within Foster Care
While the ultimate goal of providing a stable and permanent home may mean reunification with biological parents, it’s essential to establish a secure environment for children in foster care. There are three critical components to make foster care stable and permanent:
Traditional foster care models subject children to frequent moves, sometimes with short notice before he or she is moved. That situation makes it difficult for children to experience stability and a sense of permanency. Constant movement can include changing schools, missing classes, and losing friends, making it difficult for children to build long-term relationships. And when the locations are far from biological family members, they’re unable to build family connections.
The unique model of care at SOS Children’s Villages, Illinois, is structured to offer stability and a sense of permanency. Each child lives in a single-family home with up to five other children and is raised by full-time, professionally trained Foster Parents. The secure living situation ensures that changes in placement or school districts are not affected.
- Keeping Siblings Together
Although data is sparse, estimates are that more than half the children in foster care also have one or more siblings in foster care, and of those, nearly 75 percent are placed in a different traditional foster care home. In the traditional foster care model, a single-family usually can’t accommodate multiple siblings.
Keeping siblings together is another way the SOS Illinois model of care delivers stability and permanency to children in foster care. Research has demonstrated that keeping siblings together in foster care when possible has multiple benefits. Children who were kept with their siblings had a more positive and long-lasting relationship than those separated.
- Aging Out of Foster Care
Thousands of young people in traditional foster care “age out” when they reach age 18. Recent changes have made it possible, in some states and some cases, for children to extend foster care past the age of 18, in some cases, up to age 21. Without family support or stable connections, the results can be devastating, with some facing substance dependencies, criminal records, and unplanned pregnancies at a young age.
Children who live in an SOS Illinois Village can always return for support even after graduating from school, or just by keeping in touch with their Foster Parents. Our team of professional Foster Parents are always willing and able to support children who return home, birth parents or family members, and support in any way possible to ensure youth successfully transition into adulthood.
The innovative SOS Illinois Village model of care continues to build safe, stable, loving, and nurturing homes for children, which enable them to make solid connections and supports to guide them as they become adults. Join us in celebrating our Foster Parents and all our team members’ diligent work and support our efforts to bring the resources needed for children in foster care and at-risk families.