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Don't give up

Published on -9/10/2012, 10:05 AM

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I am responding to the letter from Chad and Julie Archer of Bel Aire, the foster parents who wanted to quit fostering because of a negative experience with St. Francis Community Services.

The Archers felt this agency did not do enough to keep a child they fostered from being reintegrated with the biological parents. They had the child for 18 months and were very bonded with the child. The Archers felt there were safety factors that should have prohibited the child from being returned.

I have never worked for St. Francis and am certainly not qualified to pass judgment on their efficiency and do not know all the contributing factors surrounding this case. I was employed as a case manager/therapist for a similar foster care agency in Wichita for several years and know full well the pain that is felt at times when the child is returned to the parents after spending time with foster parents. On one hand, we ask foster parents to care and nurture this child and treat them as their own; on the other, we also ask that they don't get too attached in case the child is reintegrated back into the biological home.

I don't think anyone would disagree that the foster care system is broken. We hear sad cases on the news about a child falling "through the cracks" when child protective services should have followed through on an abuse/neglect case. Case workers are overloaded, overstressed and underpaid. They do the best they can with limited resources and little time. But in the end, the decision to return a child to their biological parents is determined by a judge, not the foster care agency. There were times, as a case worker, that I strongly felt the child would be better off in the beautiful, well cared for, loving foster care home they were in instead of being returned home. But the courts believe the child should be with their biological parents unless there is a radical case of abuse or neglect. I would often leave the courtroom, shaking my head, wondering what the judge was thinking.

Having said that, I have seen first hand the power of the mother/child bond between children and their parents. I have seen foster homes like the Archers where the foster parents care for a child in a lovely home and the child is given everything they could want or need. Yet I have also seen, in spite of this, that the child wants to be with his biological parents, no matter to what extent the abuse or neglect may have been. There seems to be a biological bond there that cannot be broken. A case in hand is an adopted child whose adoptive parents have given him the world; a good education, a nice home, every electronic device made. Yet how often does the child, when he arrives at adulthood, seek out his biological parents, particularly the mother? They want to know their history, who they "are," if they look like their parents. Does this tell us anything about the material things we heap on our kids in the quest to "give them everything they want," when, in reality, the things they want have no monetary value? Does it not make you want to spend all day Sunday with your kids, knowing that your time and attention means more than all the videogames you bought them for Christmas?

In defense of some biological parents whose children have been placed in foster care: Believe it or not, some of them are simply ignorant. Ignorant about parenting, ignorant about cleaning a house, ignorant about balancing a checkbook. Sometimes they use parenting techniques handed down from their parents, like a "good" whipping with a belt, belittling a child, yelling at them.

After several months of parenting classes and education in everyday tasks, the child can be returned to the parents, many times with good results. Unfortunately, kids don't come with a manual and some parents need to be taught how to parent.

I implore the Archers to reconsider giving up fostering. There are so many children who need you. Don't let a bad experience stop you from helping a child. It isn't the child's fault that us "big people" make bad decisions. The Archers need to know that the care given during this very important attachment period of the child as an infant will make a difference in how this child lives the rest of his or her life. It is probably the most important developmental stage in a child's life and you, the Archers, have played a major role.

I have not checked the platforms about the foster care system by the presidential candidates.

Perhaps one of them can produce an answer to this country's foster care problems. In the interim, we need to have caring foster care parents like the Archers for our foster children.

Phyllis Stuart, Hays, licensed professional counselor

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