With recent changes to the foster care system both nationally and locally, noticeable trends have developed, including a decrease in the amount of children in need of foster care and a new process for placement. Katie Stoehr, senior child welfare administrator for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, visited Essential Pittsburgh to talk about the trends and the experience of fostering children.
Stoehr credits the decreased number of children in the foster care system to a philosophical shift in which agencies target prevention by maintaining conversation with families about individual needs in order to keep children in their home of origin.
“What most children want is for their own mom or their own dad to take care of them safely, even though they may know their parent is having a hard time,” Stoehr says.
In the case where prevention does not work, Stoehr says the first step is looking for a “kinship placement” in which children are placed with relatives or family friends. By maintaining familiarity, the child is more likely to feel safe and comfortable. In fact, Stoehr proudly says over 50 percent of children are in kinship placement nationally.
If there is no relative willing to foster a child, agencies use recruited foster families. Stoehr says recruitment for foster families is largely dependent on social activities. Often interest in becoming a foster family will start from seeing their neighbor or friend fostering a child.
“We are relying on families. Even if somebody doesn’t want to become a foster parent, maybe they would want to be a support to a foster parent in their community,” Stoehr says.
Stoehr says the county itself no longer makes foster arrangements. Rather, it is the work of independent agencies that matches children. She encourages those interested in fostering to do homework about what agency will best suit their needs. Stoehr also says potential foster parents must be prepared for disease scanning, home inspections, and other tests in the certification process before children are permitted in the home.
For many foster parents, Stoehr says there is a fear that relationships will weaken once a child returns to his or her family of origin. She explains that the family of origin determines the nature of the child’s relationship with the foster family and that the decision can have a range of outcomes.
“It just sort of depends a lot upon what’s going on for that family of origin and what their feelings are like, and how carefully everybody tries to work to have a good relationship between the foster parent and family of origin,” Stoehr says.
At the end of the day, although lasting relationships with foster children are not guaranteed, Stoehr says foster parents must have emotional flexibility, knowing that they made a positive or lifesaving impact on a child’s life.
“Every foster parent I’ve ever talked to who has been doing this for a long time has said it is always worth it because the payoff is seeing what their children can accomplish while they’re with them, and knowing that they’ve impacted them for the rest of their lives.”
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, call 1-800-862-6783, or visit www.fostergoodness.org.
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