A foster parent or family, also known as a “Resource parent” is a family who opens their homes to children or teens who have been removed from their birth parents and provides temporary care. With the passing of the Continuum of Care Reform or AB403 in January 2017, more resource families are needed to care for the staggering number of foster youth without a permanent connection to a family. As a result, they need long-term relationships one or more caring adults.
- About 38% of foster youth are placed in kinship care every year, while 51% still remain in foster care one year later.
- About ½ of foster youth who age out every year leave without a permanent connection to a caring adult.
- Roughly 3,000 foster youth enroll in extended foster care every year, giving them access to support services for 4 more years.
Foster Care: Placing a child in an agency-approved home for a temporary period of time due to parental neglect, abuse, abandonment, illness, incarceration or death. The goal is to eventually reunite children with their birth family.
Family Reunification: The aim is to safely reunify children with their birth parents or family when parents become stronger, healthier and in a position to provide a safe loving home.
Adoption: Occurs when a child who is in foster care has been legally freed for adoption and their birth parents’ rights have been terminated. The adoptive parent or family provides a permanent home and assumes the parental role for the child or children.
Why do youth enter foster care?
Children are removed from the birth parents or family and placed in foster care for three reasons: “abuse, neglect or abandonment.” These circumstances mark the beginning of a long journey that either ends in family reunification, adoption or aging out of the system.
What kinds of support are available to a youth in foster care?
Relative caregiver or kinship care. They provide the first layer of support for children in foster care. These relative caregivers serve the same role as non-relative caregivers by providing “a temporary, safe, stable, and loving home for a child or children and helps them reunite with their birth parents or a family member when the family problems have been resolved.”
Non-relative caregivers or foster parents. They provide the second layer of support if kinship care is not an option. They have historically been the first stop for children who have been removed from their birth families. Their primary role is to provide stability, while the birth parents, social workers, counselors and court determine whether family reunification or permanence in an adoptive home is the best option for the youth’s future. In the state of California, prospective foster parents and relative caregivers must attend a training course, pass criminal background checks, and have a home or apartment licensed by the state and county. Prospective foster parents must have adequate space, including beds and a vehicle with appropriate car seats, etc. They are also required to take continuing education courses that cover everything from how to care for medically fragile children to childhood obesity and homework help. These classes are offered free of charge at sites throughout local community.
What are some challenges foster youth and parents experience?
Though adoption is a great path to parenthood for families, there are challenges that foster youth and adoptive parents experience. Youth may find that as they age, they are less adoptable. There is a widespread belief that an older child will present with behavioral issues, intellectual and physical delays and will reject an adoptive parent’s overtures of love and authority. Older foster youth remember their birth families and prospective adoptive parents worry that the child will not love them the same.
Explaining this dynamic is the job of social workers and trainers who communicate the losses foster youth have experienced, teach empathy and provide tools for adoptive parents to successfully parent older toddlers, school-aged youth and teens. For African-American children, a forever family may mean a trans-racial adoption. Not because African Americans do not adopt, but because there are not enough African-American adoptive families in Los Angeles County.
How do the different family dynamics of the foster care system impact the well-being of a foster youth?
Youth in foster care may withdraw or lash out due to suddenly being separated from their birth family. This abrupt removal from home, coupled with high stress, clashing personalities and fear can also impact youth while living in foster homes.
Foster homes are often host to multiple children. Sometimes these children are related and sometimes they are not. Every effort is made to place siblings together because maintaining blood ties and family connections aids in successful transitions of children entering the home of strangers. There are times, however, when a child enters the system alone or they are separated from their siblings because there are too many of them to go to a single foster home. Now, not only is a child separated from his parents and siblings, he may be one of up to six children in a foster home.
What resources are available to relative caregivers, foster families or those interested in fostering?
Approved Relative Caregivers (“ARC”) are paid a stipend through the ARC Funding Option Program “on behalf of non-federally eligible children in an amount equal to the basic foster care rate paid to Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC) providers. Many approved relative caregivers now receive California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) funds, which are less than AFDC-FC.” Enacted in 2015, the ARC program is one step toward economic parity for relative caregivers desiring to care for nieces, nephews, cousins and even siblings who are in out-of-home care. Additionally, California Assembly Bill 403 Bill “requires, on and after January 1, 2017, all licensed foster family agencies to approve resource families, in lieu of certifying foster homes, in accordance with specified standards and requirements set forth in the bill.” In sum, relative caregivers will be given priority placement of existing non-relative caregivers.
Currently, all foster parents receive a monthly stipend per child in their care. The funds derive from the federal Social Security Act, which gives states discretion to allocate money to child welfare agencies, tribal organizations or Indian tribes.
Stipend rates vary depending on the medical, behavioral, emotional and physical needs of a child. Foster parents who receive high monthly rates receive free additional training and certification to assist non-ambulatory children, medically fragile children or those who require regional services for psychosocial issues. Each child in foster care has full medical and dental insurance under MediCal and day care, for children under age five, is covered on a case-by-case basis, as determined by availability of funds.
Additionally, a one-time clothing voucher is given upon placement of a child in foster care and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) is available for foster parents to subsidize the cost of baby formula and selected grocery items like milk, beans, cereal and CalFresh for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. WIC also offers nutrition classes. For more information, go to: WIC’s program list.
Far from lucrative, the money and vouchers foster parents receive is helpful but prospective foster parents need to have stable income to cover childcare costs not covered by the monthly stipend.
What are the outcomes of youth in foster care in Southern California today?
Though foster care is meant to be a temporary stop on the road to either reunification or adoption, the reality is there are too many children who spend years in foster care. There are simply not enough foster homes but with the implementation of California AB Bill 403 and a push from groups like the Alliance for Children’s Rights, relative care will help reverse this existing dilemma. The downside is prospective adoptive parents will no longer have priority over relative caregivers and may have to wait years for a child to be legally freed for adoption.
Are there new laws today affecting families in the foster care system?
Because the legal pendulum is currently swinging in the direction of relative caregivers, adoptive families will lose advantages that were passed into law in 1997. President Bill Clinton’s Adoption and Safe Families Act: shortens the time-frame for a child’s first permanency hearing; offers states financial incentives for increasing the number of adoptions; sets new requirements for states to petition for termination of parental rights; reauthorizes the Family Preservation and Support Program.” Support from the federal level made the adoption process friendlier for non-relative caregivers. Twenty years later, AB 403 virtually undoes portions of the Adoption and Safe Families Act making the outcome of adopting foster youth in Southern California a much longer process.
What is family reunification?
Family Reunification is the ideal goal of the foster care system. Social workers, family law attorneys, community partners and foster parents work diligently to restore family units that have been torn apart by violence, drug addiction, abuse, neglect and poverty. Former Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Philip L. Browning stated: “These parents are to be congratulated for making their children’s well-being and safety, their number one priority. From 2003 through 2012, more than 66,000 children were reunified with their families in Los Angeles County, an average of almost 6,600 children a year.”
In Southern California, a team approach is undertaken by adoption agencies to ensure that children ultimately remain in, or return to, their birth home. Should they be removed, a plan is put in place to return the child as soon as possible. “Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable family. Services should be tailored to each family’s circumstances and must address the issue(s) that brought the child and family into the child welfare system.”
“The term ‘reunification services’ includes: Child welfare services, Court-ordered counseling and other treatment services for the reunification of the child with the child’s family.”
Family preservation services are offered throughout California for the safe return of youth to their biological family. Additionally, visitation centers have been created to keep families physically connected. So that birth parents can remain involved in their child’s lives, foster parents are required to take youth to visits with their birth parents up to three times per week.
What happens to a foster youth when family reunification is not an option?
There are, however, instances when time is not on the side of families wishing to reunify. Repeated failure of birth parents or relatives to complete the case plan pose challenges to family reunification. It is a long process with birth parents given multiple chances to have their children returned to them but California law stipulates that for “a child age 3 or older, services may not be offered for longer than a period of 12 months from the date the child entered foster care.
For a child under age 3, services may not be offered for longer than a period of 6 months from the date the child entered foster care.”. The goal of the law is not to punish birth parents but to keep children from languishing in the system. When it becomes clear that a birth parent is noncompliant with the reunification plan, the court will legally free a child and the social worker begins the task of finding an adoptive family.
What is adoption?
Adoption occurs when all efforts for family reunification have failed and it is in the best interest of the child to be placed with a forever family. Adoption is a legal process, which permanently gives parental rights to adoptive parents. It means taking a child into your home as a permanent family member. It also means caring for them, guiding them through their formative, growing years, giving them unconditional love and understanding their needs to develop their full potential.
In order to adopt a child from the foster care system in Los Angeles County, several steps must be taken.
- Step 1: Attend a three-hour orientation sponsored by DCFS.
- Step 2: Submit an application and a family assessment that includes a criminal background check.
- Step 3: Complete 33-hours of PS-MAPP or Permanence and Safety: Model Approach To Partnership in Parenting classes. These classes equip parents and relative caregivers with skills to successfully parent foster children, with an emphasis on the safety, well-being and permanence for children in the foster care system. The entire certification process varies and may take up to one year (the 6-weeks PS-MAPP training is included in this timeline). For more information or to begin the process, contact Share Your Heart at 1 (888) 881-1121 or http://dcfs.co.la.ca.us/shareyourheartla/steps/index.html.
How is adoption beneficial for a youth in the foster care system?
Adoption not only changes a child’s life for the better but the birth mother’s as well. “Women who relinquish their children for adoption are more likely to finish school and not live in poverty or need public assistance.” Further, the earlier a child is adopted the better. Research shows that children who are adopted within the first 12 months of life “tend to outperform their non-adopted peers and non-adopted siblings and less developed adoptees catch up to their age group in height, weight, and general health.” Foster youth who are adopted later sometimes experience delayed attachment to adoptive parents, lower self-esteem but ultimately catch up with their non-adopted peers in homes that are stable and predictable.