As foster and adoptive parents serving in the state of Florida, we have conflicting feelings after reading USA TODAY's investigative piece on abuse in Florida's child welfare system ("Foster kids starved, beaten and molested, reports show. Few caregivers are punished"). We are thankful for the investigative reporting, and at the same time incredibly disturbed.
The fact is foster parents are under attack. Each article, conversation and debate recites all of the many horrible statistics in child welfare. And there are many horrible statistics showing all of the things that foster parents have done wrong. We are not going to sugar coat or make light of any of that. This letter is not an attempt to dispute those facts.
The bottom line is it is time for reform. We, foster parents, are calling for reform. Across the country, foster parents are partnering with youth who have been in the system, parents who have had their children removed and child welfare professionals to suggest reforms to a system that we know is not working.
Here’s what we know:
►There should not be double standards for foster and biological families. What constitutes good parenting, abuse or cause for removal should be the same.
►We need to implement known systems that work to eliminate bias within the system against families of color and families living in poverty so that their children aren’t unnecessarily removed in the first place. This can be achieved by providing a wide variety of prevention services to families.
►When a child is brought into foster care, we must create a supportive system where birth families and foster families are teaming up together, including through peer-to-peer programs. These programs currently exist and have been successful in multiple states, but they need to be expanded.
►Investigations of foster parents should be consistent and independent, by professionals who understand foster parent licensing requirements.
►We have to provide real support for foster parents and foster youth. Telling a caregiver not to spank without giving them alternatives is not support. How do we expect foster parents to be effective parents without giving them the appropriate tools? Teaching and training families — both foster and biological — how to provide appropriate and effective parenting is one of the most important reforms we can make.
To be clear, there is no group of people more horrified about the abuse and neglect of children in foster homes than the thousands of safe, loving foster families that care for children in the system every day.
But we have to acknowledge that these abuses are not merely a parenting problem. This is a systemic, child welfare problem. Now is the time to come together and demand changes for all of our kids.
—Amanda Cruce; Gainesville, Fla.
Licensed clinical social worker
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Foster parents call for reform of system that fails children: Reader view