The world of foster care can be confusing and we often hear common foster care myths discussed as fact.
Ross Wright, Executive Director of Hope and Home, discusses 7 of these myths in the video below.
Myth 1: DHS Wants to Remove Children
As crazy as this myth may sound, this is often the perception held by the biological family of a child in foster care.
In El Paso County alone, the Department of Human Services receives approximately 16,000 Child Abuse Hotline calls per year. Of those calls, only about 400 results in the removal of the child.
This means, the children placed in foster care are the most severely abused and neglected and their removal was either an emergency or a last measure after their parents failed to remedy the problems in their home.
To remove a child, a caseworker must first get permission from a judge by presenting the evidence they have collected to support the order. It is in no way a simple task and a caseworker’s request to remove can often be denied if the judge remains unconvinced of a threat to the child’s safety.
If a child is removed, reunification with their birth family is set forth as the first priority by DHS. A treatment plan is developed by a caseworker on behalf of the state to be followed by the biological parents.
Based on the progression and performance of the parent(s) and their ability to make the changes required by the state, the child will either return home once it is deemed safe or, when all other options have been exhausted, the parental rights will be terminated.
At this point the child is able to receive a forever family through adoption.
Myth 2: Foster Children are “Damaged Goods”
The commonly held belief that children who have suffered trauma and abuse are irreversibly “broken” is not only sadly destructive, it is completely unfounded.
While all forms of trauma can carry a lifelong impact, experts in the field now know that they don’t have to. Comprehensive behavioral studies have shown that children especially are remarkably resilient to psychological trauma.
You may even notice very little difference between a child (or an adult, for that matter) that has experienced trauma and on that has not. However, if there are noticeable behavioral signals that a victim of trauma is being triggered or is experiencing any other ongoing issues related to their abuse, it is imperative that they receive proper support going forward.
The healing processes is, in many ways, similar to rehabbing a physical injury. The more educated you are on how to heal and the more support you receive from medicine and doctors, the more likely you are to make a full recovery.
This means, to be an effective parent to a child who has been the victim of abuse, it is crucial to understand and utilize the teachings of what is referred to as Trauma Informed Care. While the trauma they have experienced should never go ignored or be minimized, children can make full recoveries.
Myth 3: Parenting a foster child will hurt your children
Whether you’re fostering, adopting or you just had a baby the old fashioned way, adding a child to your home will undoubtedly change your family’s dynamics. From sibling rivalries rooted in feelings of being “replaced” to now sharing mom and dad, there are always challenges to kids who gain a sibling.
In the beginning it may seem like these adjustments are overwhelming. Over time, most parents find that these changes ultimately have positive effects on their children.
Parents often see their children become less selfish, more flexible and willing to share as a result of having foster children in their home. Eventually, the new family dynamic will feel organic and the kids will adjust to the “new normal.”
Being part of a foster family helps kids learn early on that life changes and it encourages them to hone lifelong skills in assimilation and accommodation.
Myth 4: I could never do it because I’ll get too attached
Foster parents hate hearing this! Many people make the mistake of saying they could never do foster care because they are far too emotional and would connect too strongly with the child in their home.
What frustrates foster parents about this concept is that it this implies they are somehow less emotional, cold or heartless. Because, “How else are they not sobbing puddles 24/7?”
In reality, ALL foster parents should and do get attached. In fact, it would be detrimental to the wellbeing of the child in their home if they didn’t.
Children who form zero attachments in infancy and early childhood sometimes develop a condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). It is entirely understandable why it might feel like a wise choice to stay away from something that may result in an emotionally painful end.
But if we never did anything simply because it might not last and that might hurt, we wouldn’t form any of the relationships that make our lives worth living.
Myth 5: Don’t disrupt the birth order
Throughout history, psychologists have made varying claims asserting that sibling birth order has an effect on people’s personalities.
There’s the clichéd “oldest kid” who is often associated with having high expectations and higher levels of academic functioning as a result of receiving more solo time with the parents before then younger sibling was born.
Then there’s the middle childern who are somehow easily forgotten when the new baby comes along and are thusly left to fend for themselves.
And finally, the youngest, A.K.A the spoiled baby who soaks up all of mom and dad’s time and is treasured and cherished in ways completely foreign to the older children thus making for an entitled, helpless adult.
While these types of notions about personality make for terrific plot devices in 90’s television shows, attempts to prove they have basis in reality have gone unanswered. Research has found zero correlation between birth order and personality traits.
What is recommended is to consider the complexities of the children in your home and try to understand what challenges they may encounter by having a foster sibling. The personal relationship you have with your kids is the key to knowing what foster kids will work well in your home.
Myth 6: If a child has been sexually abused, they’ll likely go on to abuse other kids
This myth is possibly the most prevalent myth on this list and is often cited as fact in casual conversation.
In reality, studies show that while the majority of people who perpetrate sexual abuse have been sexually abused themselves, they make up less than 10% of the total population of victims of sexual abuse. Over 90% of children who have been sexually abused do not go on to “continue the cycle.”
Studies have, however, found that exposure to domestic violence tripled the likelihood of a child one day committing a sexual assault of some kind. This correlation makes sense when we reconsider crimes of a sexual nature less as a crime driven solely by an “uncontrollable urge” and more as a crime of violence that manifests sexually.
When we think of rape and sexual assault first as acts of violence, it becomes clearer why victims of sexual abuse overwhelmingly do not become perpetrators themselves from that experience alone.
Myth 7: The younger the child, the better the chance they’ll be “okay”
Implied in this myth is the belief that the older the child, the more they have experienced and thus, the less likely they are to be mentally and physically healthy. While this assumption seems very logical and intuitive, it is simply not true.
When considering the behaviors of a child, it is important to think of ourselves and the things we have been through. How do we deal with pain and struggle? How do we overcome and heal? Is there really a quantifiable amount of “stuff” we can be exposed to until we are simply broken?
When we try to de-code a child’s behavior, we lose sight of their personhood and regretfully reinforce the damaging idea that their futures are determined by their pasts.
Far more important than trying to “de-code” the amount of “damage that has been done” is getting to know the kid in your home on a human level. Understanding is the key and it has no time table nor does it demand a measurement of prior abuse to predict the future.
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