May is Foster Care Month

January 1, 2011

May is Foster Care Month—a reminder of both the benefits that good foster care homes can give children but also the long-term harm that often accompanies their removal from their own homes.

The long-term consequences of leaving children in neglectful or abusive homes have been demonstrated in numerous longitudinal studies. Cognitive, physical, emotional and developmental delays are common. A recent article in a pediatric research journal reported that children whose families had been investigated for possible maltreatment, but who were not removed from their homes, had high levels of stress hormones. For many children, foster care is a necessary respite from difficult lives. In foster care month, we recognize the foster families willing to provide for these children, and we also recognize the accomplishments of the children who have persevered and taken advantage of experiences their biological families could not give them.

But foster care month is also a time to remember that being removed from one’s family—especially under the circumstances in which out of home placements occur—is also very stressful for children. Minnesota’s child welfare system is making strides to reduce the disruptions caused by the adversarial nature of the child protection system. Together, the state and counties have implemented a new effort that provides services to struggling families before their children are removed—services that especially help families whose struggles may be related to poverty.

There is a lot more to be done, though, as many people working inside and outside the system agree. A recent report by a group that monitors child protection hearings in Hennepin County—WATCH—provides real-life stories of what children endure in the court system as their removal from their parents’ home is being debated.  The WATCH report contains heart-breaking stories from county courtrooms about the trauma that children, through no fault of their own, experience when adults deem them in need of protection. The report contains examples of good and thoughtful professional action, and examples of glaring problems with the current system. Click here to read the report.