New thinking about foster care

Jeff vonKaenel

Over the years, kids have not changed much. From the Ice Age to the Online Age, they've always needed a secure home, with loving adults helping them from babyhood through the teenage years. Kids without this loving support tend not to thrive.

There are 60,000 children in foster care in California and 3,000 in the Sacramento area. The thinking on how best to help them is changing. Previously, the biological parents and the prospective foster-care parents were kept apart. One county agency told me that foster parents and biological parents entered their building through separate doors so they would not see each other.

But that is changing. Since roughly 80 percent of foster children will eventually be reunited with their biological parent or another family member, there is now a greater focus on these children. In discussions with Sacramento, Sutter and Yuba County Child Protective Service Agencies, Sierra Forever Families adoption agency and Mission Focused Solutions, I found that the new goal is to have the biological and foster parents work together for the benefit of the child. While there are many children, especially those 11 years or older, who need to be adopted, there are many more children going through a difficult period who will eventually return to their family.

These children need a loving person who will help them navigate tough periods in their lives. But the kids, despite everything, usually love their parents and often desperately want to go back to their family. And, in the majority of cases, they have parents who love them. Not being able to adequately take care of a child is different than not loving a child.

In the past, many foster parents only wanted to adopt once it was clear that the child would never go back to their biological parents or family. Now the agencies are focusing on finding people who are willing to help a child, to bring that child into their family and to go through tough times with them, even though the child will in all likelihood return to the biological family.

So now, instead of separate doors for foster and biological parents, there is one door. Everyone is on the same side, the kids’ side. The new foster parent is more like the wonderful aunt or neighbor who helped a family through a difficult time. Some of the best foster parents are people who already know the child or the family, such as a member of their church or a soccer coach. And if/when the child returns to the biological family, the foster parent can continue to play a role in their life.

We are lucky that California’s foster care agencies offer great resources: financial assistance, training, healthcare and counseling. But the challenge is to find great foster parents. Many are needed. An agency cannot provide a heart or a willingness to make a difference in the life of a child.

That is what you can do.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.