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Social Justice and Foster Care

Today’s post comes from Lee, who works in the social justice/charity sector in America. She is a gregarious introvert, passionate about stories, social justice and people. She is an aspiring trapeze artist. She’s also terrified of dinosaurs.


Alright.  So two of my best friends are foster moms.  They went into foster care with the intention of not adopting the children who would come into their home.  So these kids would come, live with them for anywhere from a few days to months and ideally go back to their birth families.  Without getting into their personal lives or their kids’ lives, this has been hard.  They have watched kids come into their home, be returned home and then come back into the foster care system.  Needless to say they are attached (and so am I!)But the point of this post isn’t to tell their life story, but its the social justice questions that it brings to my mind.  As I have watched my friends walk this journey, I am constantly impressed by what they’re doing, but I am also constantly forced to put the ideals I claim to believe into practice as I watch them being lived out on a daily basis.

What is our responsibility as a society to take care of these kids and return them to their families?  Not all parents are good, not all foster parents are good.  But in the case of my friends, they are amazing foster parents.  Any kid who comes into their home will loved, nurtured, taught and cared for.  Plus they have the privilege of being employed, financially stable and having strong family and community support.  So, in reality, if a kid was raised by their biological parents vs. foster parents, they might have lack access to activities, experiences, education, etc. simply because of issues of socioeconomic status or privilege.

I am absolutely not supporting that children should be removed from a home simply due to poverty, there are government and nonprofit programs in place to ensure that a child has access to food, shelter and education.  (And those are definitely not adequate, but that is a conversation for another time.)  However, these are kids who have been removed for some other issue and I have such a hard time accepting the fact that we (social services, case managers, judges, society) are sending a child from a better environment back to a sub-par environment.  But if the system believes it is safe for a child to return home, then I choose to trust people who are in a position of authority and believe they have the best interest of the parent and child at heart.

Which then leads to my next question:

How do we balance the needs of parent and child?  I have seen the emotional turmoil, confusion and stress of a two-year-old when he doesn’t understand why mom comes and goes.  Or who will pick him up from daycare or who’s house he is sleeping at.  I’ve seen how his behavior changes because he doesn’t understand why his life is in turmoil.  Simply in terms of comprehension, it might be better for him if his life was more stable.  But that would greatly impact his relationship with his biological parent.  And if his biological parent is willing to do the hard work required of her by the social service system and prove she can be a good parent, then it is in her best interest to have the opportunity to continue her relationship with her child.  Also, the foster child has bonded with his foster parents and when that relationship ends, that is only another layer of confusion for the child.

How do you begin to balance the needs of a child, who can be impacted for the rest of his/her life, with the needs of the biological parent, who has an attachment with their child, with the needs of the foster parents, who are making a significant sacrifice to temporarily raise a child?

I have so many more questions about this topic and adoption in general.  The issues that come with foster care and/or adoption of older kids?  What about the social justice and legal questions of international adoption?  What happens (or what should happen) if an adoption fails?  What types of issues should a child be removed from home for?  But I will leave it at this:

The deeper I watch my friends wade into the mess that is the foster care system, the more questions I have and the more my social justice ideals are challenged.  But what I do know is this, that I haven’t never known two more kind-hearted people, who are willing to put their lives and dreams on hold to make a difference in the lives of a few kids.  And while there are amazing challenges, there are also incredible joys.  I have seen the beauty that comes from loving children who have been broken by outside situations.  I have seen a family expand to include foster parents and biological parents and the result is kids who have even more people to love them.

The reality is, we are all part of a greater human community and it is our responsibility to care for each other.  While the foster care system might be messy and painful, it is a true image of how we should and do care for one another.


One response »

  1. This is so interesting to me. I’m an MSW student, and monitored visits for kids who’d been removed from their home by children services.


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