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Stretch-A-Family

Unknowns in Foster Care

The best interests of the child are at the forefront of what is planned in foster care, but sometimes there is frustratingly insufficient information available when plans and decisions are being made

Many things are unknown in foster care, and it demands a lot of flexibility from carers and caseworkers alike. The best interests of the child are at the forefront of what is planned in foster care, but sometimes there is frustratingly insufficient information available when plans and decisions are being made. This is the great juggle for foster carers: love these children like they are your own, but hold them in open hands and be ready to wish them well and let go as their circumstances change.

There are many unknowns and variables in foster care, including, but not limited to:

  • court processes,
  • lack of information available,
  • birth family – hanging it together for reunification or otherwise,
  • trauma of children,
  • funding

Once children enter care, there has to be a court order made about how long they will stay in care, and perhaps whose care they will be in. This is obviously not known when children first enter care. That means that you may be given a very limited amount of information when children are placed into your care about how long they might stay, or what the future looks like for these kids – not because anyone is holding out on you, but because no one knows it yet.

Sometimes children are referred to Agencies with very little information from DCJ (formerly FACS), either because it gets lost in their system or because it is not given to them in the first place. There may be unknown behaviour issues, health issues or educational difficulties, and these may only become apparent after the child has been in care for a while. It can make carers feel like they are just thrown in the deep end, but it is most likely that these issues are genuinely unknown. Caseworkers want to help you and the placement succeed – they will not purposely withhold information from you and can only pass on what they have been given.

Restoration of children to their birth family is ideally what will happen after children enter foster care. In an ideal world no child has to enter care in the first place, but after that, the ideal is that the birth parents will be able to work through their issues in a timely way to regain the care of their children. Sometimes the placement works a long way towards restoration, but things can and do go pear-shaped and plans have to change. Emergency placements can become short term, short term can stretch into years – not because of poor planning, but because these things cannot be known beforehand.

Trauma can also have a range of impacts on children’s wellbeing that may only begin to play out once a child is safe. These impacts on a child’s behaviour & emotional capacity cannot be planned for and require compassion and flexibility from carers. Unfortunately, the act of being taken into care is itself traumatic and can compound upon any trauma already experienced by the child.

Foster care has a way of pulling you in lots of directions, and bringing up a whole gamut of emotions, from love, compassion, rage at what these children have been through, frustration at the limitations of the system, and you-name-it-else! The Out-of-Home-Care system and the reasons children come into it are not ideal, but the people who are working in it are (for the most part!) doing it for the best reasons. Remember to be gentle with yourself and extend grace – or at least the benefit of the doubt – to the others you interact with in the system.