“What did Grandma do for a job?” asked my 12-year-old nephew, Jack. “Well,” I replied, “she raised your dad and me and our ten brothers and sisters, was a foster parent to many more, took care of our 14-room house, and even took care of her dad when he got old and lived with us.” “Yes, but what did she really do for a job?” Jack persisted. I was dumbfounded.
Jack could not grasp the fact that his grandma worked at home without a paycheck. In our society today the stay-at-home parent is unusual. Most families, foster and otherwise, rely on two working parents for support. Children attend school or are placed in daycare while their parents are away at work.
Our social structure has changed in other ways as well. People move frequently and they move great distances. Communities are less stable and fewer families know their neighbors well, if at all. Empty nesters sell the family home, often moving to a far distant location. Extended families may get together once or twice a year and then only briefly. Rarer is the household today that enjoys strong support from neighbors and extended family.
Parents today are apt to work in different locations, frequently requiring one or two long commutes. Children’s activities often require chauffeuring for practices, games, performances. The family is on the road much of the time. Families feel pressed to eke out any time in an entire week that is not scheduled.
Because of these many changes in our society, the current structure of foster parenting is less viable. Foster parents are in short supply, not because people are less generous, but because they live in a new and different world. The old social system is not coming back. And providing temporary out-of-home care for our most vulnerable children must operate within these new realities.
Certain goals for children in temporary care remain the same. Care should be brief, safe, and lead to permanence either through reunification or with a new permanent situation. Finding ways to meet these goals within our new social structure is the current challenge. See our next blog for our three recommendations.