“How are young people in foster care expected to feel normal as adults if we have been treated abnormally all of our lives?” Crystal, a young woman in foster care asks.
Foster care is meant to be a temporary situation for children who have been neglected and abused, but stats across the nations reveal that the average amount of time a child spends in foster care is about two years. The goal in foster care is reunion or placement with a permanent family. It was with this mindset that strict regulations regarding foster parents were put in place. But two years is two birthdays, two grade levels in school, a hundred homework assignments later, and countless memories. Two years is too long for children to go without people on their side say advocates.
The problem in many states however, is that foster parents, the people who often know the children they care for best because they see them on a daily basis, face countless of obstacles when caring for them when they are still a part of the state system.
“Anything I wanted to do had to be run past the Department of Human Services. Very basic things that a parent normally decides for a child. In some cases some person who never met me would have to be consulted [on things like] school field trips, getting my hair cut and other ridiculous things that I don’t feel like a person who has never met me is more authorized to make… than the adults who know and love me,” a youth named Jackie said, according to a Pew Study demanding foster care reform across the nation.
This reform has arrived in Texas under a new program titled the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI). Brought to the state by “Our Community.Our Kids.,” a division of ACH Child and Family Services, QPI has one main focus- to improve relationships between child placing agencies, foster parents, and the children they serve. The end goal is to create a system where children in foster care can experience a more normal childhood.
“QPI is about communications, high expectations, supporting those expectations, and then letting the world know what those expectations are,” says Carole Shauffer, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Youth Law Center in California and co-founder of the QPI initiative. A key element to doing this is by creating a stronger partnerships between foster care service providers and foster parents.
“We really need to be listening to people who are on the line. Foster parents, caregivers, kin. Foster parents need to be fully respected partners in the system,” Shauffer stated in a meeting held to introduce QPI to child placing agencies and foster parents who serve in the region.
Countless of foster parents agree that one of the largest problems youth in foster care face is the lack of ability to go about their everyday life in the same way as other youth. Tanya Wilkins, a mental health and trauma nurse who has worked with foster kids for more than 15 years and is now a child advocate who focuses on kids aging out of the foster care system, strongly believes that increasing the autonomy of foster parents will help to fix this issue.
“Foster parents need more rights to make prudent decisions about children in their care,” she said in a video conference during the May QPI meeting. “There are so many barriers to keep the child safe, they don’t get to experience some of the things that other children do.”The ability to share in some of these experiences leaves many youth in foster care with the feeling of “alienation” says Wilkins.
Aundre West is a foster parent from Florida, one of two states where QPI has been in effect for the past few years.
“People used to look at foster parents like glorified babysitters,” West said confirming that QPI had made a positive impact in changing that viewpoint. QPI was first introduced in California and will become a part of the Texas foster care redesign system in Region 3, one of the most populated regions in the state, starting this year. Inevitably, the purpose is to serve children in the best way possible surmised Dr. Wayne Carson during the meeting, emphasizing the need to work in unison.
“We are all a team and unless we work together as a team, we can’t help kids,” he said.