At the frontlines of the battle to reclaim youth from the throes of mobility, insecurity, and the insanity of the injustice thrust upon their shoulders - are foster parents. Daily, the task of caring for the immediate needs of these the most vulnerable is not met by the Foster Care Industrial Complex. Instead, it is met by foster parents. If there is a lack of foster parents available, the youth are shuffled outwards to other temporary stations. Yet, more often than not, it is this brave class of folks that step up on behalf of an often absent public, take up the burden and parent.
In the endless shuffle of social workers, judges, therapists, etc, foster parents might be the best hope for these youth - the ceaseless advocates that pester and persuade the Byzantine system to provide all necessary to nurture these youth. Who are foster parents; what do they look like; what is their economic station in life; are there enough of them; what motivates them to the profession; how can we recruit new groups to the profession? Tough questions, but the answers are within reach.
A foster parent, according to the National Foster Parent Association website is "willing and able to provide care and nurturing for the duration of the child's stay in foster care. Foster parents are asked to complete an application, submit to home assessments and attend training. Foster families must demonstrate financial and emotional stability, responsibility and a willingness to work with the agency that supervises their home."
Attracting the Middle and Upper-Middle Classes to the Cause
It is often on the economic margins of our society, the communities with the least, that are the most open to fostering. Motivations abound, certainly some are in it for the wrong reasons - perhaps financial. But I doubt seriously that this would keep many foster parents in the game as they experience the rigmarole inherent in the bureaucratic parenting of 786,000 American children.
Not intending to aggravate class warfare, let me say that my intention to recruit middle/upper middle/upper classes to the ranks of fostering is many fold; and in no way an insult to the dedication of the current class of foster parents. An analogy is apt and timely; when a person knows a person of a certain race, sexual orientation, religion, etc, it is harder to labor under the impressions of racism, homophobia or intolerance. Similarly, if we succeed in securing the commitment of our entire economic community to fostering, we breed loyalty, we breed friendships, we breed a movement of communities dedicated to the state's children.
What is more, these higher echelons of economics are the folks that write checks to politicians, are civically engaged, write blogs for the Huffington Post, and know the decisions makers; perhaps they are the decision makers. If they understand the system, they cannot help but aide in its reform along and amongst the current rank of dedicated public servants.
Other advantages abound for recruiting these new economic classes to fostering. More often that not, the higher the income level, the higher the education level. What could be better than to expose foster youth to those with doctorates, ESQ's, PhD's, etc. Valuing the education, being exposed to those with education, and knowing that one mimics the world according to what we see, feel, eat and what is said around you - to be in a home that values and shows the results of education can be the medicine that brings our abysmal 50% high school graduation rate for foster youth to something we can respect as a society for our state's children.
Pay Today, or Pay Tomorrow
It doesn't have to cost an arm and leg. Many in various stages of middle/upper middle/upper class are put off by the burden associated with fostering. Perhaps though they could be persuaded.
State colleges and universities are the public ally subsidized bastion of American pride; and we should be proud. An obvious first step has been taken in many states to waive tuition for foster youth emancipating or having been adopted form care. Extend this benefit to the biological children of foster parents that have fostered for at least 5 years. Imagine yourself as a middle class parent of three and the thought of what might be possible with this financial burden taken from your rounded and slumped shoulders. That second job evaporates, and that which would have been saved for that cost, could be redirected in time value to support and nature a foster youth. The biological youth would have to qualify for entry, but otherwise safe financial passage upon admissions.
State-wide health plans abound for various state agencies, teachers' unions, legislators, etc; let us open the same plan for our state legislators to foster families in their entirety after a certain period of service, or a commitment to a number of years of service. If foster families fail to provide that service, a retroactive billing could take place. Again, the burden facing middle class families to meet the ever increasing cost of health care could be alleviated as an incentive. The many Americans living pay check to pay check, families of these folks, all of sudden can contemplate a scenario whereby not only do they receive a benefit - but so does society.
Perhaps, to reach the upper echelons of society, they receive a special income tax rate for a fixed period of time during or in reward for a number of years of service. Those fiscal hawks might shriek at the cost, but that would overlook the profound cost of the failings of our foster care system - we can pay now, or pay more later.
Fear of Flying
These are just some ideas to recruit and retain new classes of foster parents to share the burden with the marginal economic communities that are doing the work for all of us. My mother, bless her heart, always emphasized two things despite our circumstances; her love for each of us, and education. Let us expose foster youth to the worthwhile endeavor to climb the rungs of economics. The small investment this short list of ideas calls for pales to the enormity of the cost wrung from society by the failings of our foster care system's 'foster care industrial complex.'
Close your eyes, what do you see. Nothing, emptiness. This is the pathway most foster youth know and have come to expect for themselves. Let us as a complete community share the burden, take their hand, and soar.