Speaking back to the stereotypes of foster parents

I came across this video on the interwebs made by What Would You Do?, one of those hidden camera shows that stages scenarios in order to see what kind of reaction they receive from onlookers. This particular staged situation portrays foster parents as greedy people only in foster care for the money who treat their foster kids as second-class children. The video is a little over eight minutes long, but it took me about 20 minutes to watch; I had to walk away a few times because it made me so mad. Here are three reasons why I take issue with the video:

  1. It perpetuates the stereotype of crappy foster parents. My husband and I haven’t been foster parents for very long (three years), but we’ve met many foster parents in our training classes and support groups. So far we have only met one parent who was in foster care for the money. I realize our frame of reference is limited, but the foster parents we know work hard to give their foster kids everything they’d give to their biological child. I know foster parents who have not protected their own hearts so that their foster kids’ hearts could be protected. I know foster parents who have reached out to their foster kids’ birth parents to try and support them and in order to restore their biological family. I know foster parents who spend their free time attending classes or support groups or reading books about parenting so they can do right by their foster kids. I know foster parents who have set their careers aside to care for children not of their flesh. I know foster parents who face their foster kids’ awkward or difficult behaviors in public with grace and strength, doing what is best for their child even if it means having people stare at them. The foster parents I know go above and beyond to make sure their child feels just as loved as if he/she was their biological child.

  1. The video may empower people to be extra wary of foster parents. In the video, several onlookers stood up to the foster parent and condemned the way she was treating the child who posed as her foster child. In this situation, the condemnation was deserved. But here’s the thing: Sometimes being a foster parent means having to make tough parenting choices in public. My husband and I adopted our two kids from foster care. Our kids’ trauma is often manifested in interesting behaviors when we are out and about. Rarely do our kids have obvious deplorable behavior in public; rather, in public their behaviors are often subtle and unnoticeable to the average onlooker and stem from their habit of needing to “work a crowd” in order to get their needs met. My husband and I have had to deny our child a privilege in public, we’ve had to remove them from an activity, and we’ve even given them a consequence in public situations because we love them...we care about their future well-being, and we want them to know that they no longer need to manipulate people to get what they need or want. People have questioned us and have jumped to the conclusion that we are harsh and unloving. I believe the What Would You Do video might encourage people to be extra attentive and critical to the choices foster parents make. If you see my family of four out at an ice cream place and one of my kids isn’t eating ice cream, it’s not because I’m choosing to treat that child like a second-class child who is a paycheck and undeserving of my love; my child probably isn’t enjoying an ice cream cone because he/she displayed a behavior that we have to address. Before jumping to criticism or condemnation, please take a step back and try to think about the situation from all sides.

  1. The video doesn’t encourage any REAL change. The major problem I have with this video is that it doesn’t encourage people to take any reach action. There’s no call to action at the end; there are no statistics of the number of children waiting in shelters for a foster family. One woman in the video says she wants to help the child, but the host of the show doesn’t say how she can help REAL kids who are without families. There are no numbers or agencies featured at the end that would encourage interested folks to pursue foster parenting. The video only encourages a negative view of foster parents.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute report that “On any given day, over 415,000 children are living in the U.S. foster care system [...] Nearly 108,000 of these children are eligible for adoption and they will wait, on average, four years for an adoptive family” (Fact Sheets). Foster parenting and adopting kids from foster care is not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, no matter how difficult this work is, EVERY kid deserves a shot at a permanent family--whether that is reunification with their biological family or adoption into a new family.

If you’re interested in taking steps to implementing real change by providing a temporary or permanent home for a child, consider seeking out organizations in your area. Here are links to organizations in Nebraska that will help you become an equipped foster/adoptive parent:

1 comment:

Kristin said...

I couldn't get through the video.
The thought I had while thinking this through was how dangerous and detrimental this stereotype can be to foster children in general. I imagine a foster parent who has to discipline her child in public and later has a CPS agent arrive at her house (a normal parent doing a safe and necessary discipline. Let's be honest, even those can be uncomfortable to witness from the outside). CPS, from what I gather, isn't as understanding to foster parents as they are to biological families. Now a family is potentially destroyed because someone assumed the worst.

Fortunately, and maybe it's just the company I keep, I haven't run into a lot of people believing this stereo type, most are quite the opposite. I have actually had more people in favor of fostering than infant adoption in my life. But maybe that's because that is our course and so I hear it more.

You are awesome, your kids are awesome. Keep it up, mom!