When a child is placed in foster care, some people tend to think their birth parents have discarded them, or worse. That assumption is not only incorrect; it’s at the core of why birth parents are so often undeservedly vilified. The truth is far more complex. Children are never placed in foster care because of anything they did, but some go into care for different reasons than people might think. Most birth parents whose children are in foster care need a helping hand.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people are not treated fairly. A well-known quote, “Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not,” (usually attributed to the American entrepreneur, Leila Janah) explains the enormous disparities in life. Regardless of how hard they try, some people are just not given a fair shake. While sadly, some children are placed in foster care due to abuse, the situation is much more complicated for many.
Many birth parents with children in foster care have encountered hardships that make it challenging to provide the security and care children need. Understanding their situations allow a more compassionate approach.
Neglect can happen for several reasons. Parents dealing with substance abuse and addiction can create an unsafe environment for children. Many parents addicted to a substance are so focused on fulfilling the need related to the substance, rather than feeding and clothing and meeting the basic needs of their children.
Birth parents who work jobs where benefits like sick days are not offered may feel they need to go to work— no matter what—to provide for their families. Desperate birth parents may sometimes leave their children at home alone or in a locked car outside their job site if there are no family members or friends to care for them and can’t afford childcare. The neglect is not intentional—in fact, in their mind, they’re doing just the opposite—these actions can lead to children being removed from the care of the birth parents and placed into foster care.
Poverty can play a significant role in a child’s being removed from the home and placed in foster care, as it often leads to maltreatment. Poor parents may simply lack the material resources to meet their children’s needs. Research has shown that economic factors are stronger predictors of officially reported neglect than parental reports of actual neglectful behavior.
Studies show that 33 percent of children in foster care in the U.S. are African-American. Yet, federal studies indicate that child abuse and neglect are lower for black families than whites. The findings have propelled action to address racial inequities in child and family-serving systems.
Lack of Love
One of the biggest misconceptions is that parents whose children are in foster care don’t love their children. This is a sweeping generalization, and far too often, could not be further from the truth. For example, sometimes birth parents cannot raise their children safely, not because they have an addiction, but because they need knowledge and experience to meet their children’s special medical needs.
Rather than assuming that birth parents have malicious intentions and are undeserving of our understanding and respect, former SOS Illinois Foster Parent, Jenny Wray, shared two family reunification stories showing the need for compassion. Both stories demonstrate the value and power of offering education, support, and resources to support birth parents.
The unique SOS Children’s Village Illinois model of care positively impacts foster children’s lives. That commitment includes developing tools to help birth parents navigate the system. One project is creating a handbook to help birth parents better understand the sometimes confusing court system and ways to work with the Department of Children and Family Services.
If you or someone you know would like to make a difference in the life of a child in foster care, as well as learn how to support birth parents, learn more about becoming an SOS Illinois Foster Parent today.