A Brief History About Foster Care For Foster Care Month.
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By Elizabeth Lee, EVOLVE Family Services Foster Care Family Worker.
Foster care hasn’t always been the somewhat well-oiled machine you see today. It began in the early 1500s by taking children (often immigrants) who did not have parents or homes and selling them to other families who had money. Those families, in turn, would use the children as indentured servants.
The way society approaches foster care changed significantly changed in the 1800’s when Charles Loring Brace, a minister and the director of the New York Children’s Aid, created a more organized way to assist children who were sleeping in the streets of New York. He placed advertisements in southern and western states and families answered for several reasons.
This did not mean that the way children were treated by these families changed. Due to this organizational approach, different social services agencies and governmental parties began getting involved. Three states led the movement towards creating and requiring foster care licensure.
Massachusetts began paying board to families taking in foster children who were too young to become indentured servants, Pennsylvania created the first licensing laws, and South Dakota provided subsidies to public childcare agencies. Records and supervision of foster families did not begin until early in the 1900s. During this time, services were also made available to encourage reunification with foster children and their birth families.
In the current child welfare system, foster parents and children receive a much higher amount of support from state governments and nonprofit organizations. EVOLVE and other similar agencies provide emotional, financial, licensing, education, and other supports. It is encouraged to develop interagency collaboration among different areas related to foster care. Permanency and reunification are the main goals for all children and families.
You may now be asking the question, “So how can individuals support foster families and the children in their care?”
Many foster families are what we call “Relative” or “Kin,” meaning that the providers have had previous relationships with the birth families, children in care, or are blood related. Quite often, these providers are not given much notice of their placement. Sometimes they get a call and children are placed with them in under 24 hours. How could someone even prepare for that call? Their lives are suddenly changed, and they care so much about the children in question that they immediately open their homes.
Those of us in the child welfare system who directly support foster families do our best to offer the support they need to be successful, but our reach can only extend so far. There are many ways friends, family, and the community can wrap around foster families. Some of these ways include helping them welcome a child with open arms, bringing meals or snacks for the whole family, donating clothing items or other things the family may need, becoming a listening ear and pillar of support for the foster providers, and assisting them with everyday tasks that may now be too much for them to handle.
Raising children is a tough job, and raising children who have a higher likelihood of prior abuse and trauma, who have experienced loss beyond what most of can comprehend, and who are often dealing with more than we did at that age can be even more challenging. By supporting foster families in every way we can, we will improve the experience for providers and children alike!