May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize the good work of foster parents, family members, volunteers, policymakers and child welfare professionals who help find permanent homes and connections for youth in foster care. Phil Redmond, director of The Duke Endowment’s Child Care program area, shares some thoughts about trends and challenges facing the foster care system.
Q: Why does The Duke Endowment believe foster care is important?
Redmond: One of the values we try to support is the importance of family and the importance of foster families for children who have experienced abuse and neglect, trauma and other type of adverse experiences. And for foster care to be truly meaningful, we need foster families who can recognize and respond to the needs of the child until that child is either reunified with the parent(s), placed with relatives or adopted.
Q: What programs is the Endowment supporting to strengthen foster care?
Redmond: We support evidence-informed program models such as Together Facing the Challenge, which was created by Duke University, or ARC Reflections, which is a model adapted from clinical therapy. These models help foster parents recognize the needs of the foster children in their home and then respond appropriately.
Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles faced by foster parents and the foster care system?
Redmond: Number one, we don't do a good job of supporting and retaining them in the system...For a whole host of reasons.
Q: Talk about some of those factors.
Redmond: Our hypothesis is that foster parents often are not and do not feel supported. They often don’t receive sufficient information on a child that's placed in their home, nor does their training prepare them for the issues they face. They get disenchanted or overwhelmed with the process. Or, in some instances foster parents move to adoption, and once they adopt they stop fostering. And we are pleased that foster parents adopt. But whether they are foster parents or they transition to adoptive parents – something we encourage if it is right for the family – they still need adequate support and training. Again, I think the chief reason for so much churn in the foster care system is due to foster parents not feeling supported and prepared for children they'll have in their home. So there's this constant need to recruit foster parents.
Q: What might we do differently to overcome this perennial shortage of foster parents?
Redmond: In North Carolina, private child welfare providers have done a really good job of trying to meet this demand; however, the training and support foster families receive varies. In South Carolina, the state Department of Social Services retains most of the responsibility for recruiting, training and supervising foster parents. The state does not incentivize private agencies adequately to become more active in the foster care system. Nevertheless, many private agencies use their resources to start foster care programs. We believe that private agencies across the Carolinas, particularly our nationally accredited children’s homes, can play a major role in the improvement of the foster care system. Children’s homes, especially those with ties to the faith community, can really benefit the system by using their resources and their connections to grow the foster parent population. This connection to faith communities is important because research informs us that most foster parents are driven by spiritual and missional reasons. So, while North Carolina can strengthen its efforts to support foster families, it's also a missed opportunity for South Carolina not to use those connections by resourcing nationally accredited children’s homes.
Q: If you were talking to someone who was thinking about becoming a foster parent, what would you tell them?
Redmond: I would tell them on any given day across the Carolinas there are approximately 14,000 children in foster care. These are incredible children who deserve and could greatly benefit from strong foster families. I would also say foster parenting is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone to consider. I would tell them that the first thing they should do is talk to another foster parent to learn about their experiences and to ground their expectations. I’d tell them that children in foster care have many needs and many strengths. I would connect them to one of the nationally accredited providers with whom we have a history.
Q: Where can they connect with current or former foster parents?
Redmond: You can always call the Department of Social Services in your county. You could contact the North Carolina Division of Social Services and/or visit their website. Interested persons in South Carolina can contact the South Carolina Department of Social Services or visit their website. I would certainly connect them to any number of accredited providers that we’ve supported over the years.