Foster Parent Professionalization
The foster care system needs to be reinvented in order to truly make a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable victims of child abuse. We need a new version of high quality committed professional foster parents. We need foster parents that are qualified, motivated for the right reasons, professionally trained, and held to professional standards. In order to properly screen, properly train and hold to professional standards we have to compensate them like all other professionals in America. A hundred years ago, when foster care was created, we did not fully understand what abused and homeless children truly needed. Our government found volunteers to provide a bed for these children to sleep in and made sure they had food, shelter and clothes on their backs. After a century of this strategy, we have seen primarily horrific results and outcomes for our innocent victims. This system has left these children homeless, incarcerated, drug addicted, pregnant too early, uneducated, unemployed, broke and mentally ill. Many of these children grow into scared, angry, and often violent adults who continue the cycles of abuse they were exposed to.
So now we know better...
It is time for us to use the research data as tools to use what we have learned to create truly transformative solutions. Abused children that have been removed from their homes need committed qualified foster parents to provide a safe and loving home. The current system clearly does not provide that. We need to do better. We need to stop begging for volunteers that are not up for the task. There has been a movement in recent years to refer to foster parents as “Professional Parents”. There is little doubt that these children do need professional help, but a name change for their caregivers is not what they need. If we are going to refer to them as “Professional Parents” we need to treat them like professionals. Professional parents need to be screened, trained, held to professional standards, and compensated like all other professionals.
These children deserve the same professional help we all enjoy from our human service providers. Children need parents. It's not a luxury we can live without. They need them like we need education. They need them like we need hospitals. They need them like we need fire departments, police officers, and our armed forces. None of these services are luxuries we can live without. Secure love cannot be replaced by a random selection of multiple adult humans living under the same roof. Foster children need professional parents, who are trained, compensated and held to professional standards like all other human services providers. This concept initially sounds counterintuitive to suggest the answer to foster parents “doing it for the money” is to pay them a salary. The explanation is that paying professional parents an appropriate salary allows foster agencies to accept applications and hire the most qualified parents based on education and experience like every other profession.
We need to raise the standards for foster parents and hold them accountable for the outcomes of the children in their care. The only way to really do that is to treat them like professionals. That starts with professionally screening potential foster parents. This can only be done if we have good ones to choose from. Instead of begging for good-hearted volunteers in free newspaper ads and street fairs, we should be accepting resumes from experienced and qualified parents and professional caregivers. We can use psychological testing, background checks and real-life parenting or professional experiences to screen out the potential parents motivated for the wrong reasons. We will be able screen because we will have better options. The screening will be the most critical piece of the program, requiring an experienced and ethical committee. Poor screening would destroy the philosophy of the mission. Once parents have passed the screening, we can start preparing them for success with professional training that gives them the tools and support to appropriately manage the challenging behaviors of scared, angry and untrusting abused children.
When we are working with qualified professionals, we can raise the standards for foster parents. One of the most damaging things we can do to these children is to place them in a home with foster parents that are unable or unwilling to commit to the children for the duration of the foster care process. In some cases, that can be days and in other cases, it can be years. Our professional foster parents will be mandated to commit to the child until permanency is found through reunification with their birth family or adoption. In order to give foster children and foster parents the best chance to succeed, professional foster parents will only be asked and allowed to foster one child at time. Sibling sets will be the exception to that rule. When a child is abused at home and enters the foster care system, they are in need of a safe and loving home to begin the healing and recovery from the abuse they suffered and the trauma of being removed from the only home they know. In many cases that traumatized child is placed in a foster home with up to five other traumatized children suffering from physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect and the cycle of traumatization repeats itself with each placement. A “one child at a time” policy also helps decrease the notion of foster parents “doing it for the money”. The current standard is up to six foster children in a single foster home at a time. That has sadly been a motivator for some foster parents to take in as many children as possible in order to use the children’s minimal monthly reimbursement as income for the parents, instead of the basic necessities for the children.
We have the resources. We have qualified and loving adults capable of providing sufficient care that would stop the pain and begin the healing process. We have mental health professionals, teachers, coaches, and experienced empty-nesters with successful track records of parenting. The obstacle that prevents them from being world class foster parents is fact that they have to work another job and can't afford to volunteer the vast majority of their time and energy that it takes to provide a safe and loving home for physically, emotionally and psychologically broken children.
We are the tax payers who fund our dysfunctional foster care programs. We can no longer look the other way and assume these children’s needs are being met. Our money needs to be spent wisely and effectively. If we agree that these abused children’s lives are as valuable as ours, we are all ethically responsible for making sure they are safe in our communities and globally.
The outcomes from replacing unqualified volunteer foster parents with professionally qualified, professionally trained and professionally compensated foster parents would be incredibly far reaching. The most valuable of these outcomes would be our abused and scared foster children finding safe and loving homes that would allow them to begin the healing process instead of perpetuating their fears and inflicting more pain. The community effects of foster children being placed with professional foster parents would be the creation of thousands of new jobs for experienced, dedicated, and hardworking care givers. Beyond the career benefits for these new professional foster parents, these professional parents would be realizing their full potential for being agents of positive change in a child’s life and breaking countless negative cycles which make the world a better place to live. With less children being raised in dangerous environments and experiencing repeated trauma, our society would benefit from less violent crime, homelessness, drug addiction, child abuse, teen pregnancy, criminal court costs and prison costs. We would have less fear, less trauma, and less pain and more educated, loved and secure children.
The Professionalization of Foster Parents
Professional Foster Parents will require appropriate education, experience and commitment, therefore they must be compensated like all of the rest of our professionals doing the work that others don't want to do in order to keep us safe.
Some rough numbers to think about...
Foster parents will earn an annual salary of $36,000. 24hrs/day X 7day = 168hrs. X 52 wks. =8,736 hrs. /year = $4.12/hr.
$36,000 X 100,000 professional foster parents nationwide = 3.6 billion per year nationally
2,000 professional foster parents for each of our 50 states 20 agencies per state 50 parents per agency.
Let's look into other ways we spend 4 billion per year in America...