Have you ever wondered what happened to the children you’ve known who were in foster or adoptive care? As these children were growing up, what did “being in care” mean to them? As young adults, what are they doing now? What did they learn from those early life lessons that makes them who they are today? If you’re like me, you have a thousand questions. From personal experience within my extended family, I am honored and in awe to have witnessed the growth, grit and perseverance of the foster children who have grown to thriving young adults because of the nurturing of loving families. I’ve seen how the foster and adoptive parents’ efforts have been so vital to helping my nieces and nephews grow into successful adults.
Each person who’s been in care has their own personal story. That’s why I was enthralled with the 12 powerful video stories I heard from young adults who participated in the StoryBoard Project. If you watch and listen, you’ll hear their stories of resilience as a choice, refusal to give in to the bad stuff, the saving grace and escape of reading books, and the pursuit of college education as life-changing processes. You’ll also hear their tributes to the adults who offered love, guidance, and encouragement—their parenting figures. Listen to the story about the foster parent who “cared for me when nobody else would” for 14 years, the tutor who became a trusted life coach, and the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer who turned a child’s life around to love people again and supported her to choose her own future.
Foster Care and Adoption Facts
Children are placed in foster care when a child protective service worker and court consider it unsafe for the child to remain in his/her home due to the risk of neglect or abuse. There was a steady decline in the number of children in foster care from 1999-2012. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in 2012, there were approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the US public welfare system.
More than one quarter (28%) were living with relatives in “kinship care”, and nearly half (47%) were living with unrelated foster families.
About half (51%) of the children who left foster care in 2012 were reunited with their parents or primary caregivers.
About one fifth (21%) were adopted.
In 2011, 38% of foster children were under 6 years old.
Among adopted children, more than half (54%) were adopted by their foster parents and one third (31%) were adopted by their relatives. (See more information).
Attachment and Child Development
In previous blogs, we’ve noted the impact of adverse childhood experiences and the key role prevention can play in strengthening protective factors for children. Especially vital, child attachment is formed during the first year of life through the countless daily interactions between parents and children. The quality of attachment deeply impacts the psychological development of the child, for either better or worse. We’ve also discussed in detail how nurturing parenting can foster children’s character development that bolsters resilience during life challenges. Thus, we know that the foundations for lifelong health and development are formed in the early years, when parents play a major role in their children’s lives. Yet, these early years are precisely the time when many children enter foster or adoptive care. How can parenting educators, family support workers and case managers support these children and families?
Assessing Parenting in the Child Welfare System and Prevention
In our work with foster and adoptive families, we need to be on the watch for parents and children experiencing precarious interactions and intervene early. We also need to identify parenting concerns that may hinder children’s health, attachment and safety. As a priority, we need to pay attention to their parenting strengths that serve as protective factors and contribute to children’s resilience. We always want to build upon parents' strengths.
And let’s not forget that half of the children in foster care reunite with their parents. For parents who are striving to repair relationships and reunify with their children, building sensitive and consistent parenting skills may be one of the deciding factors in bringing them safely back together.
Of course, as we’ve said repeatedly, prevention is the best path to developing healthy brains, ensuring healthy bodies, and strengthening parent-child relationships. Our goal is to support families at any juncture to provide safe and supportive environments for their children that promote their lifelong well-being.
Whether families are involved in foster or adoptive care, reunification, or prevention of placement in care, there are a variety of proven interventions to increase positive parenting skills, improve children’s socio-emotional behavior, and reduce child maltreatment. The most efficient step is to intervene early to promote strong and rewarding parent-child interactions, which create a positive spiral of reinforcement. In addition, by intervening early we can prevent the downward spiral of negative parent-child interactions that can lead to neglect or abuse, or aggressive child behavior. An observational parenting assessment, such as KIPS, facilitates this process by offering a snapshot of current parenting strengths and identifies areas for improvement. In this way, assessing parenting plays a critical role in building strong, resilient children and families. Since intervening early can yield lifelong benefits, it is well worth the effort and cost.