Help me think about the morality of fostering removed children.
January 22, 2019 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I always assumed being a foster parent was a good thing. Now I'm not so sure. I need some material that will help me get a grip on this issue.

I have always thought that fostering and/or adopting children from incapable or abusive parents was good. However, as I learn more about things like the Sixties Scoop, the Motherisk scandal, and even hear people maligning separated migrant parents as criminals who endangered their children, blaming the parents for those separations, I'm becoming less confident that the existing system is morally defensible. It's common knowledge that being subjected to the system can be traumatising for everyone involved, and I'm not sure when it can be trusted.

On the one hand, providing a home for a child in need or danger is good. On the other hand, if the people in power get to determine what constitutes a "good" home, the system will perpetuate whatever abuses and prejudices are embedded in the existing power structure. And when money gets involved things become even more complex.

I need resources to help me think through this issue and come to some conclusions. Books, articles, documentaries etc are all welcome. I'm in Canada so anything specific to our system is especially welcome.
posted by windykites to Education (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Fosterhood is/was a tumblr blog about a 30something woman's experience as a foster mother. Warning - it gets intense over the years. But I've learned a tremendous amount.
She currently has it hidden for legal reasons but if you can ever get access, read it.
She also wrote a column for Babble for a few years.

What I've taken away from reading her stuff is that the system is incredibly broken and hurts families.
posted by k8t at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

From fosterhood:
First and foremost, the goal of foster care is almost always reunification. There aren’t any “unfit” parents who have their children removed. They’re only considered unfit at the moment. It’s your case worker’s job to do everything in her power to restore the child’s mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma — or any family member — to a stable place to parent. And you, as a foster parent, must not only support this reunification process, you must partner in it.

Let’s be clear what partnering entails as a foster parent: For most of us, family visitation is one of the all-consuming activities of fostering. Newborn visitation standards in my area start with three times a week. If the mom is breastfeeding, I’ve heard of judges ordering five visits a week. I’m sure you’ve heard how difficult it can be to get out the door with an infant. Imagine if you were court-ordered to be across town at a specific time three days a week — hurricanes, blizzards and holidays included.
posted by k8t at 6:47 PM on January 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

This Mashable article on problems with the foster care system is a surprisingly good quick overview of some significant issues. I'm in the process of becoming a foster parent myself (so obviously I have a position on this issue) and the more I interact with other foster parents, the more I'm glad I'm doing it, because a lot of the people who are signed up have just stereotypically awful assumptions and intentions, but I am actively part of groups (mostly on facebook) that talk about the problems of transracial fostering, or the importance of reunification, etc.

I think it is important to consider what you are actually choosing between doing - if you don't become a foster parent, will you be a CASA? Will you become a mentor to foster youth? Will you work your way up within the system until you can affect the decisions made? Or will you do nothing? Because I think it is unambiguously true that it is better to be a foster parent than to do nothing.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:49 PM on January 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

This isn't an either/or situation, i.e., the system can be massively fucked up, but that doesn't mean that fostering/adopting children in need of a home and family is wrong.

Note: I'm speaking as a former foster mother (teenage boys in the 1970s). The system was (afaik, still is) an unholy mess— overworked, under-paid, poorly trained (and sometimes criminally negligent staff members) Nonetheless, kids needed homes.
posted by she's not there at 6:50 PM on January 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

> Fosterhood is/was a tumblr blog about a 30something woman's experience as a foster mother.

FYI you can find many of the old Fosterhood posts on, for example here.
posted by flug at 6:53 PM on January 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

As a temporary foster parent / guardian, I've seen a system in my state that tries valiantly to reunite kids with their families. They are working in situations that are by all accounts difficult and trying, and in our case I know the parents were beset with substance abuse and mental health issues.

There were multiple stages along the way that the parents could have demonstrated intent to care and take them back, and to their credit they honestly admitted they could not.

One now lives with their aunt and goes to a technical school. The other has made their way into a career they love. I am very proud of the shelter and attention we gave them and were a small part in helping them become the amazing people they are now.
posted by nickggully at 7:21 PM on January 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

In Toronto, Black children are the most likely to be removed from their parents and placed into care. This reflects the biases of authority figures in the kids lives- for instance, one teacher called the Children's Aid Society to investigate whether a child's parents were negligent because the child brought a *roti* for lunch (a hearty and nourishing Indo-Caribbean sandwich consisting of a chickpea-flour pancake folded around stewed meat or vegetables- actually a very healthy meal).

Indigenous Canadian children are also overrepresented in foster care, and many murdered Indigenous women were taken in by the system.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:14 AM on January 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

As a foster parent, I've become keenly aware of multiple kinds of abuse suffered by children whose original parents are not, for whatever reason, in a position to look after them. Much of that abuse is indeed systemic: children get removed for insufficient reasons, children get forcibly returned to horribly abusive original parents that they'd be better off never having to deal with again, children get warehoused in residential "care" facilities that show very little sign of caring, children with behavioural issues (often the direct consequence of both parental and systemic abuse) get bounced from home to home to home as successive foster parents find themselves unable to cope, and rigid bureaucratic systems treat vulnerable children like play tokens in some kind of complicated power game whose rules often seem opaque if not completely arbitrary.

From my personal point of view, foster parenting is first and foremost parenting. The focus has to be on what's best for the children before any other consideration gets a look in.

If you're capable of genuinely loving children you didn't make and raising them as if you had, and you get trained up as a foster carer and then do your level best to provide the children who end up in your care with what they truly need, then what you're doing is, in my view, an absolute good. There are large and real issues that make foster care systems fraught with moral difficulties, but personally providing the best parenting you possibly can to existing children in desperate need of same is not one of them. Nor is becoming a fierce advocate for the children who enter your orbit and doing your level best to ensure that the system doesn't maul them.

Most foster parents have excellent parenting skills, but of course some don't. I've heard and read horror stories from children raised in foster care, most of which are overwhelmingly likely to be completely true. There are indeed some truly awful people doing fostering who have, in my view, no business being entrusted with the care of anybody, much less of children already traumatized by having been removed from their original parents and/or by those very parents beforehand. As in any form of parenting, from the kids' point of view it's totally a lottery.

Most government child welfare departments work on the policy basis that foster care is ideally temporary, and reuniting children with their biological parents is given a very high priority. Much of the time that is indeed the best thing for the children but sometimes it really, really isn't.

There are no easy answers when it comes to these issues. The question of who has or should have a right to decide when children should properly be removed from the homes of those responsible for their care, be they biological or adoptive or foster parents, is horribly complicated and has to be evaluated case by case. One size fits nobody.

But the single biggest thing that makes foster care systems fail children as badly as they frequently do comes down to a simple question of numbers. Always and everywhere there are way more children in need of loving, compassionate, stable parenting than there are foster carers able to provide it, and the bureaucratic systems that coordinate government support for children in danger are almost always underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed.

I strongly encourage thoughtful, compassionate people not to walk away from fostering purely because the system is fucked, even though it really is. Get involved. Help make it do more good and less harm this year than it did last year. Because this is not some kind of dry intellectual moral conundrum - this is about the real lives of real, vulnerable people.

Done well, fostering benefits children and their original parents and the community generally. It would be fantastic if enough good people got involved that well was the only way it ever did get done. As things stand, we're a long way from that right now.
posted by flabdablet at 3:48 AM on January 23, 2019 [20 favorites]

One very good book I read about the recent history and morality of the foster care system in the states is To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, by Cris Beam. I'd recommend it.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:21 AM on January 23, 2019

I'm biased by having been in foster care that focused on reunification more than was great, but like, our systemic failures to deal with poverty or abuse aren't foster carers' fault, and what the carers do is mostly good.

especially if you haven't been in close proximity to abuse, maybe read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. having accurate ideas about red flags of control and manipulation is invaluable, especially when others are trying to substitute classist, racist bullshit for that accuracy.
posted by bagel at 6:05 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kids themselves are sometimes the reason for the placement and there is nothing wrong with either the child's parent, the system or the foster placement.

Tier IV care (I think this what it is called) trains foster parents more extensively in how to care for kids with significant MH issues, and pays the foster parents more, accordingly. This is the case for a young person in my family, and their foster parent/family has been and is FANTASTIC. But the foster parents have been worn down after two years of 'my' teen kid trying hard to blow everything possible up and hurting as many people as they can. Kid has burned every possible bridge, and the fosters are discontinuing placement for them and another foster kid in a couple weeks. Everyone -the kid's parent, the foster system, EVERYone- is trying so hard to help them and with trying to reunify them with their parent. That's not a fault of the system. Child is too dangerous to live at their parent's home and the options are extremely limited at this particular level.

Anyway, another possible take on the scenarios in which foster care is used.
posted by mcbeth at 7:26 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

having accurate ideas about red flags of control and manipulation is invaluable, especially when others are trying to substitute classist, racist bullshit for that accuracy.

Fully agree.

Another thing that fostering will definitely open your eyes to is the way those red flags of control and manipulation occasionally go up when dealing with bureaucrats and case workers. It's pretty horrible for all concerned when the child, the original parents and the foster parents are all on one side and the Department is on the other, but it does happen.

Most of the time the Department folks are great, but every now and then you will strike one who absolutely needs to be worked around.

Kids themselves are sometimes the reason for the placement and there is nothing wrong with either the child's parent, the system or the foster placement.

Yep. Seen that too. Though it has to be said that most such cases turn out to be the end result of a parent/child relationship that hasn't been working well for either for quite some while.

And again, one of the things that's really really fucked up about the whole child protection system is that although there are heaps of biological parents whose children would never end up needing to be removed if they had had ongoing access to the kind of training routinely provided to foster parents and prospective foster parents at no charge, nobody will fund that. As in so many things, society seems much more willing to spend six figures on attempting to repair damage after the fact than three to four on preventing it in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 AM on January 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

My in-laws, now retired, ran a group home & oversaw a number of foster homes in Ontario. Their faith and their own childhood experiences made their home an utopia for a lot of the kids who passed through their doors who often were the victims of really terrible abuse and neglect who otherwise would have ended up into an institution. They tried their best to integrate those kids into a loving home and provided structure & safety for those kids. Sometimes the kids were able to reclaim their lives and sometimes they fell back into the marginal lives their parents led regardless of how much care they received. They also oversaw adoptions which, sadly, had a high failure rate.

You mentioned the 60's Scoop, First Nations kids and foster care is an incredibly fraught issue without easy solutions (and even between provinces it can be very different). When my in-laws were working and they had First Nations kids they always went above beyond to make sure that those kids were connected with their culture and home community. They even did supervised visits with kids from extremely remote reserves. Unfortunately, many foster homes are simply not equipped to do that.

It isn't necessarily an either/or argument (i.e. Foster homes are always good vs always bad). They are homes that are genuinely great like flabdablet's above and others where neglect and abuse happens. In my experience, most foster homes mean well, legitimately care but are not always well prepared to deal with generational trauma, fetal alcohol syndrome, histories of really horrible abuse. Even if you have limitless empathy and super human patience it is a hard job with not nearly enough supports. And yeah governments and existing power structures are never in favour of the most marginalised no matter how hard they try to show us otherwise. The problem is that there are few alternatives.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:33 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Not to threadsit as I truly appreciate everyone's responses, but I want to clarify that I'm especially looking for resources like books and articles to help me think about issues like the intersections of racism/cultural genocide, child welfare, systemic bias and the removal of children from vulnerable and oppressed communities, to come to conclusions about when or whether it is ethical to participate in that system. I'm not thinking about voluntary surrender or whether individuals can be good foster parents in this question; I'm sure there are many excellent foster parents out there. Thanks.
posted by windykites at 9:54 AM on January 23, 2019

Plenty to think about in Bringing Them Home.
posted by flabdablet at 11:15 PM on January 23, 2019

This piece "Race and class in the US foster care system" by the International Socialist Review covers a lot of the history and problems with the system in America and gives references to more in depth material, and in the last ~third it talks about organizations (in New York) trying to change the system with a heavy emphasis on race, such as the Child Welfare Organizing Project, Rise magazine for/about/by parents of children in care, and FPA Foundation, all of which have a significant amount of reading material themselves.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:08 AM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd add: Walking this Path Together, which is a collection of essays about child welfare practice with indigenous communities, and basically everything Cindy Blackstock has ever said, which you can find through a google search or a search of an academic database. Susan Strega also writes extensively on the ethics of child welfare.
You could also check out the various reports on the Representative for Children and Youth's website.
posted by unstrungharp at 8:47 PM on January 24, 2019

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