California has 62,000 children in foster care. According to Dr. John DeGarmo of the Foster Care Institute, the number of children being placed in the foster system has steadily been increasing nationwide while the number of foster parents has been decreasing.
In Shasta County, the number of children entering foster care is more than twice the number of children entering care in the rest of California. For infants, the ratio is more than three times higher. This has lent to a massive shortage in an already limited pool of caregivers.
The Foster Care Institute conducted a study, which uncovered several factors contributing to the crisis:
More children are being placed in foster care because of the dramatic increase in drug abuse by biological parents. This drug crisis has reached unprecedented levels. Because California hosts some of the largest transportation hubs in North America and international entry points, it has some of the nation’s largest drug trafficking problems. Northern California has been designated an HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). The most prevalent drugs in California are meth, heroin, and prescription painkillers.
Foster Parenting Challenges
Given that most foster children have experienced some form of trauma—as well as separation from biological parents, frequent changes in caregivers, and more—foster parenting can be quite challenging.
Foster parents in The Foster Care Institute’s study overwhelmingly reported feelings of grief and loss. Half of these parents also reported not feeling supported by their caseworker or agency. Many parents felt that they had not received sufficient training for foster parenting. And over half of them said they wanted to quit at least once during their time as a foster parent. Burnout is a reality for many.
A factor that contributed to the stress was the frequent changes in caseworkers and the lack of adequate information about the children that were placed in their care. When there were special needs or behavioral issues, the parents felt they weren’t always properly informed or trained.
Another factor that may contribute to the trouble in recruiting foster parents is the frequent negative media coverage of foster parents.
In Dr. DeGarmo’s words, “One simply has to open up a newspaper, turn on the television, listen to the radio, or engage in some sort of social media and learn about yet another ‘bad foster parent’ incident. The media focuses upon those negative stories about foster parents, thus helping to perpetuate an already negative viewpoint and stereotype of foster parents. This type of negative awareness only hurts those foster parents who strive to be the best foster parent possible; work hard to give the child in need the support, stability, and love that they need.”
What You Can Do to Help
There are several ways you can get involved.
- Foster Parenting: Couples or single individuals over the age of 21 can become foster parents. A few qualifications apply.
- Respite Care: If you’re not able to be a foster parent, you can sign up to provide respite care for others.
- Volunteer or Donate: Look for opportunities to volunteer at local foster agencies or to donate food or clothing to foster parents.
- Create Positive Awareness: Share positive stories of foster parents who are doing a great job and foster children whose lives have been changed because someone took them in.
- Support Foster Parents: Become a listener, offering a safe place for foster parents to share their successes and struggles.
Together, we can close the gap between children who need families and families who can care for children. Foster parenting is challenging, but with the right resources and supportive network, it can become more possible for more parents. At Children First, we seek to provide the kind of strong support that both foster parents and foster children need.