I’ve worked in the foster care field for nearly 25 years, and over that time span, I’ve formed strong opinions about what probably works better than foster homes for some kids in foster care. There is also another reason I have these opinions, which I’ll reveal later.
I believe family foster homes are best for some children, say age 10-ish and younger. Why? I think the littler kids adapt better to a foster home and foster family than older kids do. Perhaps younger kids, and especially sibling groups, need a family atmosphere more than older kids. In my experience, I’ve found that the older kids actually do much better if placed in group home or residential settings compared to foster home placements.
Here are some reasons this may be true:
1. Group homes are more structured than foster homes. There are few opportunities to do something wrong or overstep one’s bounds in a rule-driven, scheduled environment.
2. Group homes have staff as opposed to parents who aren’t theirs.
3. Kids’ loyalties aren’t torn between their own parents and the staff, since the roles are nothing alike.
4. Kids’ loyalties aren’t torn between their own home and a group home, because the setting is totally different.
5. Kids don’t feel like they have to pretend people are their parents when out in public with staff, the way they do when out in public with foster parents.
6. The perception of others in a child’s home neighborhood or school is often one of blaming the child for his placement in a group home. Alternatively, when a child is placed into a foster home, the blame more often is placed on the child’s parents by others. It’s very difficult for kids to know others hold their parents in low regard.
7. When kids return home from a group or residential setting, they have a little bit of “status”, as some sort of survivor.
8. When kids return home from a foster home placement, they are often the subjects of unwanted pity for having such losers as parents.
The prevailing trend in foster care placement is to place all children in homes instead of group settings. The national average of kids in out of home care who are placed in group settings is 6%. Some states pride themselves in having a lower percentage, and strive for a lower percentage. I wonder if the outcomes and futures of these children back up the perception that family home settings are best for all kids. I can find no long-term follow-up studies of children’s well-being 5 years, 10 years, 20 years after aging out of foster care. Believe me, I’ve tried. The only other reliable source I have for my beliefs listed above is myself, because, you see, I was a child in foster care many years ago, and experienced all those things and thrived much better in the group setting in which I was finally placed.