Foster care: Yes, you could

When I was in my twenties, I hung out with a bad crowd — nuns, priests, social workers, probation officers, lots of left wing activists. Newly graduated from law school, I had a job and a two-bedroom apartment, which made me feel rich for the first time in my life, and also made me easy prey for the plea to become a foster parent.

Video above produced by Hennepin County.

“Emergency foster parent,” I think they said. “Only when we need someone for a short time. Maybe a weekend, or even a week or two.” My first foster daughter stayed about six months, and then came back a year later for another six months. The other two kids had serious problems, and neither stayed for quite that long before disappearing into treatment or long-term detention.

I thought about those kids, and others I eventually represented in juvenile court, when I wrote about the for-profit foster care business in February. I thought about them again, talking to my-brother-the-social-worker about the scarcity of foster care homes. “There are hardly any foster homes available in rural Minnesota,” Kenny told me. That was the case in Chicago, back in the day, and I’m betting it is still as true in big cities as in small towns. Foster care is a tough job if you’re the parent providing the home, making breakfast, taking the kid to school and trying to provide some kind of normal life.

Across the United States, about half a million children are in foster care. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, “In 2013, 11,510 children spent some time in out-of-home care.” About half of the children are over the age of 12.

Caring for kids is a tough job, even when they are your own. And I am not going to lie — When they come to your home already traumatized by removal from their parents and whatever caused that removal, it’s even harder. But these are still kids, who need loving adults to care for them. Even the hard-to-place teens need parenting. For the record, all three of my foster children were teens, and none of them was the least bit scary.

Our child protection system needs more resources. Recent headlines tell about the state’s failure to investigate reports of child abuse, with sometimes-deadly consequences. When it’s necessary to remove a child from a home, for whatever reason, the next step is finding another place for the child to live.

The foster care system has serious problems, but lack of foster care homes may be the most serious of all. If you are interested in opening your home to foster children, you can get more information and start the process here.

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