A new report by Naomi Schaefer Riley, published by the American Enterprise Institute, is titled “Honor Your (Foster) Mothers and Fathers.” Riley has made it her business over the past few years to become an expert in foster care and adoption.
I often think of foster care and adoption as akin to military service — so few of us serve, and most of us don’t know the intense sacrifices necessary and the critical need there is for responsible citizens to step up to the plate. Riley has been surveying the challenges, and she wants to help make it possible for there to be more foster families who stay in the system for more than a year or two, so that the roughly 443,000 children in foster care can have stable homes.
One of the ways not to solve the problem, she says, is to start throwing more money at potential foster parents. That’s because the money that state governments tend to give rarely sufficiently covers health care and other expenses, especially if there are special needs involved (which is so often the case with children who might have trauma in their history). Money isn’t typically the factor that is going to recruit the kind of people who want to step into the arena — the kind of people who are moved by the call to this service. And it’s also because young adults who spent time in foster care often remember the money — just how much it was and what it was used for. A child who is desperate for a little “normalcy” might not exactly feel at home if he or she’s feeling like the people who are supposed to love him or her unconditionally are in it for the money.
What foster parents want is more communication and support. They want to have some input in the future of the children they bring into their homes. But the caseworkers are overworked and undertrained. The family courts are overwhelmed. And in some states, child-welfare caseworkers often are using pen and paper, transferring notes to office computers, or finding themselves checking office files late at night. Communications about important things like medications and abuse histories can be a nightmare.
Any savvy politician would take this up as a cause. At a time of great division, helping children get a little love and stability in their lives should be something that can rally people on the right, left and those who find themselves somewhat politically homeless all together. Instead, we’re getting things like a bill in New York state that would make it harder for children in the foster-care system there to find permanent homes. New York is a state that doubled down on radical abortion ideology earlier this year. But when it comes to foster care, there is no abortion debate. There is no argument over life. The child is alive and in need of our help. We simply must make those children priorities.
Mother Teresa died 22 years ago this month, and a quote that is attributed to her makes a whole lot of sense to me: “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?”
There may be a lot of contentious debate about abortion, but rare is the person who is truly enthusiastic about it. Rare is the person too, at least in my travels, who is happy about the state of politics in our country and the world. Making the world — state by state, community by community — a better place for children who find themselves in the foster-care system should serve as a meeting ground for people of good will. Riley is helping show the way. Read her report, give thanks and pay heed. We can do this. We must do this.
Let this research spark a culture change. Not everyone can be a foster or adoptive parent, but we all have our roles to play, and help we can offer.