By: Elizabeth Occhipinti
Admittedly, being a resource (foster) parent is not easy. The stigma and sting of the failure of this system of care to both rehabilitate parents and produce successful outcomes for children seems to stick to the adults that stand in the gap. Research IS clear that children are wounded by placement into the foster system, but what is not often discussed is the reality that for many children their resource family is a huge source of strength for both them and their biological parents. Nationwide research also suggests that foster parents present a significantly low risk to the children in their care.
On any given day most foster families we know look just like ours. Our children are learning to share a little more, appreciate what they have, and sacrifice a little. As parents, we are flexing old muscles caring for a sweet little one, while also serving as #respite parents to support the family who has had her long term.
But when I look at this candid photo I snapped of three of my girls feeding Bethany* I realize that the next generation that is impacted by the outcomes of child maltreatment and neglect is able to care for and help foster children like Bethany learn that they can trust and receive care.
Perhaps it is in small beautiful moments like this that we can collectively chip away at the false narratives around foster care in New Jersey and begin to face the reality that despite our best efforts, it is our system that is broken.
If there was one statement that this post is meant to address, it is this;
I worry about the impact of foster parenting on my own children…
If I am honest, I was worried about that too. Foster parenting is not without cost, sacrifices, and yes even losses. Yet the imagery of my children welcoming and caring for a child they’ve never met compels me to speak out in response to say:
Your children will most certainly be affected by your choice to welcome a child into your home. Some of that will be overwhelmingly difficult, and some of it will be wonderful. In the end, it will not be the measure of comfort you’ve provided to your children that will help them to grow into empathetic individuals – it is rather the teaching moments, the hard losses, the responses to injustice, their ability to see things from another perspective, their faith in a God and the belief in redemption – that will shape them. But more than that, it will reap a reward that will likely never be seen in the life of a child you may never meet again, sparking growth and development in a healthy environment that stirs them with hope and helps them to thrive
Scientists, practitioners, and educators already know the circumstances that children benefit most from. Why have we allowed our system of care to offer little protection from harm? It is the system itself; the uncertainty placed at the very heart of it and the abuses endured prior to placement into it that wreaks havoc in a child’s life.
Children need and deserve more. We must prioritize their safety and promote healthy attachment. We must protect them from harm and provide them with the basic right to be in a safe and stable home. We must allow biological parents access to treatment and solutions to help them to become restored. We must encourage permanency ensuring their healthy development. As we look ahead to ways that we can advocate for the children in New Jersey’s system of care, we invite you to join the Child Advocacy Association of New Jersey to stand with us as we stand for them. Because every child deserves a safe family that is supported and prepared.
To learn more about joining the Child Advocacy Association of NJ (CAANJ) email email@example.com
*a fictional name