My experience with foster care

Lefty Graves

**This article is based on nonfiction by actual events that were witnessed firsthand by me; used with permission.

As a former foster parent, nothing is more heart-wrenching than to watch a young foster child fall through the cracks of bureaucracy. I’ve had several foster children over the years and this is a compilation of what I’ve observed and experienced with my foster children and the system.

Foster children appear suddenly and with little warning at all hours of the day or night. If you’re lucky, you might get a phone call before you get that knock on the door. Otherwise, you simply learn to roll with it.

My foster daughter was 14 when I got a phone call about her. She arrived the next day with a backpack and a broken heart. As I sat getting to know her and listened to her story I saw her pain and frustration at being a foster child. I would have her for a year before she was able to be reunited with her family.

Another foster son would arrive at 11:00 at night after a very stressful day. His younger sister fell off of the 2nd story of their house that day and after the ambulance left he was standing all by himself. He went to the hospital where his sister was taken and asked a nurse what to do. He was 15 at the time.

The foster care system called us at 10:30 that night and arrived half an hour later. We were unable to take his sister due to some medical issues but she went to a lovely family and both of them saw each other often.

This particular young man had some health issues himself and ultimately we would only have him for about 3 months. He moved to another family that was better able to care for his needs and were members of his church.

My other foster son arrived on Christmas Eve unexpectedly. Crestfallen and heartbroken, he had struggled with many misadventures before winding up on my doorstep. He was in his last year of high school. Over the Christmas break, we settled things and got him situated. After a trip to the local child advocate, we were able to assure him that he was safe and could stay here through school.

It would take a few meetings with the local high school to get him back on track for graduation. We pulled him through with many late-night study hours and a lot of help from the school being willing to give him an extra chance.

At graduation, we invited his grandparents who lived almost two hours away, and threw a huge graduation party. We funded his senior trip and he had a wonderful time and won a prize. It was an amazing day for our foster son. We are still proud of him.

Today, he is fully employed and self-supporting working in an IT company. It took a lot of effort to get him to where he is at today, but I wouldn’t change any of it. He is an amazing man and my entire family is proud of him.

That’s when we found out that as soon as he turned 18 the foster care system would be basically abandoning him.

What happens when kids age out of the foster care system?

Most of us don’t give kids aging out of the foster care system much thought, that is unless you have kids that are turning 18 and either graduating high school, or just shy of graduation when they turn 18. Here are some typical things that happen to foster care kids when they age out of the foster care system:

  • A lot of foster kids become homeless when they become adults at the age of 18.
  • Some foster kids lack quality education.
  • A lot of foster kids don’t have any job experience and are unprepared to enter the real world.
  • A few foster kids have serious health issues.
  • A few foster kids have mental health issues or behavioral health issues.
  • Many foster kids lack health care.
  • Some foster kids are still working on issues with the justice system for offenses when they were minors.

What Is Family Finding?

Kevin Campbell, VP of EMQ Children and Family Services, considers children who have no family to be likened to that of disaster victims. He calls these children “the loneliest people on Earth”. In 2003 in Washington State, Campbell first developed Family Finding. He was able to help move 253 children out of 288 children to move in with relatives over a six-month period.

The movement continues and today, Campbell has been known to visit as many as 10 different cities each week. His goal is to teach social service workers ways to track down relatives of foster children. Professor Gerald P. Mallon, Hunter College School of Social Work in New York is a national expert on working to create a permanent family unit for foster children.

They work to locate relatives using specially created Internet search engines that can help to connect these children with a family member. Once located, social workers try to help ease the children into their relative's homes via letters and phone calls that are carefully scripted.

Every effort is made to reunite children with their families so that children can grow up in a normal household situation. While not all relatives can help, some are and for those children, a success story makes all the time and effort worth it

Social workers work until they have located at least 40 family members per child. A few children have been reunited with as many as 300 family members. Campbell says that his mission is to “make sure that families know where their kids are, and that kids know where their families are”. id

It’s not acceptable to raise children in the public system when they could have been reunited with family that we just didn’t bother to call. The premise of this is so simple that many longtime child care advocates are wondering why it took so long for someone to come up with the idea.

Social service departments are lacking in the ability to reunite many children with family members. Children tend to do better when they are in familiar surroundings and stay in the same schools. All too often children wind up in foster care due to parents being drug-addicted, abusive, or having some other mental or physical issue that prevents them from being able to properly care for their children.

Placement with stable relatives would go far to help ease the stress on the system. More states than ever before are trying to use this method to ensure that children are cared for by family members. Children deserve lasting bonds and relationships and the sooner they feel safe the less likely they are to act out.

Sadly, not all foster children can be reunited with families. Some families aren’t able to be put back together.

In the words of H. Jackson Brown, Jr. “Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”

Have you ever been a foster child? Have you ever been a foster parent? What was your experience? Good, bad? Indifferent? Please share your story in the comments.


Comments / 2

Published by

Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming & more. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington state.

Washington State

More from Lefty Graves

Comments / 0