For decades, officials in the United States approved foster parents by the criteria of making sure that they had the extra room and offered a safe home environment for foster children.
However, some states are expanding this basic criteria to include foster parents who will actually parent the child, fulfilling activities such as helping with homework, organizing the child’s social activities such as birthday parties and sewing Halloween costumes, and bringing the child to doctor’s appointments, etc .
Advocates say that stricter criteria is needed, as the key issue facing the recruitment of foster parents remains the fact that vulnerable foster children need a parent, not a caregiver.
As great as the good intentions of a more strict vetting process may be, this criterion is complicating the longtime problem of finding enough adults to house children in need.
Most jurisdictions in the United States don’t have enough foster parents, so officials tend to be more concerned with making sure that families only meet the minimum standards before they are accepted into the programme.
For example, in Florida the demand for foster homes was so dire that children were sleeping in child welfare offices as recently as a few years ago.
Carole Shauffer, executive director of Youth Law Center, has been working with foster parents and child welfare workers in Florida to address this issue, and ensure that a better relationship is built between the two groups.
Through the resulting Quality Parenting Initiative program, meetings were designed to bring foster parents and caseworkers together to open the lines of communication. Florida changed the way it trains staff and recruits foster parents.
The program also encourages improvements like returning foster parents' phone calls or writing a thank-you note to them. Shauffer's team heads the initial effort and stresses the program is an ongoing effort to change stereotypes, increase communication and cut through barriers between foster parents and state agencies.
Some Foster parent groups say that changes are sorely needed. David Sharp, public policy chairman for the National Foster Parent Association, explained that in most states the same problems exist in disregarding the opinions and participation of foster parents in the lives of the children in their care.
He went on to state that often foster parents do not even get to comment in court on how the child is doing on a daily basis, even though they are the only adults who see the child every day.
In Connecticut, new child welfare Commissioner Joette Katz has pushed for massive foster care reform, saying the agency needs to respect foster parents, include them in decision making and provide better support services.
Connecticut has faced serious problems with finding foster parent’s in the past. At one point, 30 to 35 percent of foster kids were being housed in group homes and institutions.
There have also been allegations from child welfare advocates that the state was so short on foster homes they were sometimes keeping unqualified foster parents.
There are also issues with populations of children, including teenagers and children with disabilities and other special needs, ending up in group homes or institutions more often than other children.
States such as Tennessee and New Jersey have had success launching efforts to recruit homes specifically for these more difficult cases.