Foster care has changed. Has anyone noticed? The DCS can no longer count on foster families with a stay-at-home parent. 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. To keep up with our society as it exists today, we have three simple recommendations.
First, pay foster parents a wage comparable to a second job within the family. The family thus gains an adequate income, reduces the time spent commuting, possibly even requires one less car. The foster child is cared for in a family setting. The foster parent has the time and energy for full time parenting and can derive satisfaction from contributing both to the family and to the community and the needs of children.
Second, re-think group living. Group living has had the negative connotation of living in an institution, beset by rules and headed by authoritarian figures devoid of warmth and personal concern. But group living can embrace other models. Consider collecting older children in groups of ten or less, and placing them in four-bedroom houses, managed by two salaried house parents. Hopefully, people living together in small groups will create their own culture and homelike environment.
Third, enlist former foster youth to become advisers, foster care staff, and even house parents. In education, health care and similar fields persons who have benefited from the system often seek a career that allows them to give back. Foster youth who have had a good experience within the system might be attracted to such a job. And who better as critics, advisers, and employees than those with first-hand experience.
These and other ideas are but brief sketches. Changes cost money. As a society, we must decide if our needy children are worth the expense. Changing an approach requires vision and risk and probably includes many false steps along the way. But the one thing we know for sure is that a system that relies on a society that no longer exists has little chance of success.