Misconceptions about fostering lead to shortfall in child care

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As the executive director of Angels Foster Family Network, I have a job that both breaks my heart and inspires me every day.

Each day is different at Angels. We may get a call from the County of San Diego telling us a newborn with drugs in her system needs a temporary home while her parents take time to get their lives back on track. We may also hear from one of our parents who foster needing advice on addressing the special needs of an infant or toddler in their care. We may see biological parents enjoying visitation with their children as they work toward reunification.

As the executive director of Angels Foster Family Network, I have a job that both breaks my heart and inspires me every day.

Each day is different at Angels. We may get a call from the County of San Diego telling us a newborn with drugs in her system needs a temporary home while her parents take time to get their lives back on track. We may also hear from one of our parents who foster needing advice on addressing the special needs of an infant or toddler in their care. We may see biological parents enjoying visitation with their children as they work toward reunification.

I can handle this emotional rollercoaster because I know that it leads to a positive outcome for a child. What is thoroughly agonizing, though, are the daily phone calls and emails we get asking if we have families available to care for infants and toddlers coming into foster care. Sadly, our answer most often is no and this greatly troubles me. 

Why is it in a community of more than one million households we struggle to find a few hundred more families to open their hearts and homes to a child in need?

The two-part answer is simple, but the solution is not easy.

First, people are not aware of the dire need for foster families in San Diego.

Second, there are so many misconceptions about fostering that it can seem impossible to take on.

Currently there are 2,500 children in foster care in San Diego; 40 percent of them are five-years-old and younger. We have to turn away two-thirds of these infants and toddlers because we do not have enough foster families to meet the demand.

Angels has a unique approach where we ask families who foster to take only one infant or toddler (or sibling set) for his or her entire stay in the foster care system. The result is children receiving high-quality, focused care, and the chance to deeply connect with loving adults. It is absolutely critical that young children learn to attach in a healthy way – especially after traumatic events. Research consistently shows that children who establish nurturing bonds with caregivers have more positive outcomes in all areas of life. They are physically and emotionally healthier, more economically productive, and generally happier. They are less likely to drop out of school, engage in violence, or need public assistance.

With so much at stake, it is hard to imagine why everyone does not foster an infant or toddler. It is hard work, but it is not impossible either.

There are so many misconceptions about fostering that make it seem impossible. First and foremost, we hear people are reluctant because they fear they would grow too attached to say goodbye to a foster child.

Many people ask how a family can survive after a child reunifies with his or her biological family. Having fostered before, I can tell you it is heartbreaking.

My wife, four children and I grew incredibly attached to the infant we fostered for four months. And frankly, that is the whole point.

Fostering is about giving children the chance to attach. It is about shouldering the pain and hurt that they have endured. It is about giving biological parents the time, space, and compassion they need to get their lives in order.

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and the ideal time to recognize that we can all play a role in enhancing the lives of children in foster care. 

What can you do to help? Please consider becoming a family who fosters while also sharing the need for more families with your friends and colleagues.

Together, we can ensure every child is able to live in a safe, loving and nurturing home.

To learn more about fostering visit angelsfoster.org.

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