Debunking Foster Care Myths

Right now, there are around 4,500 kids in St. Louis foster care and 400,000 kids in foster care in the United States. Quality foster homes are always needed to care for our community’s most vulnerable children. While there are incredible individuals ready to help, many more folks would like to become licensed foster parents. Still, they might hesitate to do so partially because of the inaccurate things they’ve heard about foster care. Let’s clear up some of the most common myths Coalition staff hear while working in the field:

Myth #1: All children in foster care are bad, juvenile delinquents, or runaways.

All children who have been impacted by foster care have experienced trauma. The Kaiser Permanente Institute says that the single most significant protective factor in any child’s life is their relationship with their parents. No matter what pain or loss you experience, your relationship with them is what will protect you best.

Simply by entering foster care, our kids lose that relationship, or at minimum, the certainty that ordinarily makes it so powerful. Decades of psychological and neurological research have shown trauma has a profound and lasting impact on children’s brains. It takes years to heal from the wound of removal alone, even if they eventually go home.

Children are not bad. Many children (and plenty of us adults, too!) express themselves in ways that frustrate and perplex others in an effort to cope with the trauma they have experienced. Most new foster parents learn in their initial training about common trauma reactions like bedwetting, stashing food under a mattress, or even, in extreme cases, running away from home.

These are all completely understandable once you look at a child’s past environment. If it was filled with fear, deprivation, or even violence, these reactions start to make sense. They can last for years, but often, with a bit of creativity, communication, and therapy, foster parents can create a home environment that removes fear, uncertainty, and danger from a child’s life. When children (and adults!) feel safe and cared for, they will act kindly, respectfully, and thoughtfully toward others.

Myth #2: All children in foster care have been sexually or physically abused.

The vast majority of kids in foster care have never been abused. More than 60% of kids here in St. Louis enter care because of “neglect,” which is often just a fancy label for poverty. For instance, more than 20% enter St. Louis City foster care each year because of inadequate housing.

Here’s an example of what the system calls neglect: A seven-year-old is left at home to watch her three year old sister because mom can’t afford a babysitter but still needs to work.

Should she have done that? No, but is the solution to remove her children? Set aside the emotional trauma we inflict on that family by removing those kids; is it more effective for us as taxpayers to pay $200+ per day to keep both kids in foster care, or help prevent them from entering in the first place by connecting mom with some resources?

Myth #3: Foster parents can only be heterosexual married couples.

False! We need every type of family to support kids’ needs. We routinely have both single and same-sex foster parents complete our training. The important question is: Are you able to meet the needs of a child? Your support network is everything, whether you’re single or married.

And same-sex foster parents have a special significance in foster care, where studies suggest up to 20% of kids identify as LGBTQ+. Many of those kids have been kicked out of their homes for the way they identify. Those who enter foster care are often bullied or face further abuse. A role model who loves, accepts, and understands them for who they are would be life-changing for many of these kids.

Myth #4: Foster parents cover medical insurance

Medicaid entirely covers healthcare for children in foster care. Here is a link for more information on coverage.

Myth #5: Foster parents are only in it for the money.

It costs significantly more to raise a child than foster parents receive. Foster parents receive a small stipend each month based on the level of care each child needs. The average monthly payment in Missouri is $450. It’s worth pointing out that Missouri is currently ranked 48th in the country in what it pays foster parents.

At the Coalition, we do our best to help families with our Resource Round-Up. Many companies and local organizations have stepped up, especially during COVID, to provide relief for basic needs. Please visit our Resource Round-Up page for a list of St. Louis and Metro East financial support resources. As we learn of more resources we will continue to update.

Myth #6: Once a child is placed in my home, I’m on my own, and I have to pay for everything.

When a child is placed in your home as a foster or adoptive placement, you receive a monthly reimbursement for expenses you will incur. The reimbursement depends upon the child’s age and the number of foster children in the home. The state provides medical and dental insurance. Here is a link for more coverage information.

A yearly clothing allowance and transportation reimbursement is also available. If counseling or therapy services are needed, the state also provides those services.

The Coalition offers ongoing support services to provide assistance to foster and adoptive families. We have your back, no problem is too small. Here is a link to our Resource Round-up page. This page is jam packed with helpful information. We cover metal health support, financial support, food resources, and even weekend activities. We are here to provide wrap-around support to our families to ensure our children and families heal and prosper.

Myth #7: I will get too attached; it would be too hard to see the child leave.

We would be lying if we said reunification doesn’t come with a sense of loss. By the time your child is lucky enough to reunify, you will probably have developed a powerful relationship. We routinely coach newer foster parents through the grief they feel during these moves.

That feeling means you’ve done something right. It means you’ve given that child the love and care they deserve and need in order to heal. Love does not fix everything; it takes extensive training, ongoing support, and probably therapy to help a child heal from their trauma. But you also have to love and care for them. The loss you feel is a necessary part of their healing process.

If you are worried about loving a child too much, you might be perfect for the job. Here is a link for potential future parents, that includes a wealth of information to help you make the decision. On the bottom is a form to fill out if you would like to speak to someone to learn more.

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