Is the Foster Care System Perfect?


Sarabeth and I were extremely lucky with our daughter when she was our foster daughter. (The picture is her at the zoo a few months ago.) Other than the tedious waiting, everything went smoothly from the day we brought her home from the hospital to the day we brought her to the courthouse to sign the official adoption papers, one of the happiest days of my life (even happier than the day Pixar Animation Studios wrote me a personal email).

Stupidly (and luckily for us), no friends or relatives sought her out. She had no visitations whatsoever.

But what about the people who have their foster kids taken away from them because the states deem it best to return them to their parents who had their kids taken away from them in the first place? (Whether it be for abuse, financial loss, drugs, etc.)

One thing that floors me is the states’ insistence on reunifying these broken children and babies with their (often) undeserving parents.

The state values reunification over anything else, and, often above the child’s own safety and wellbeing.

Think about it. Foster parents go through rigorous background checks, take many hours of classes and training programs, they’ve proven that they’re financially and mentally stable, yet the state insists, “We will do EVERYTHING in our power to reunify the kids with their parents if they show even just a sliver of change in their habits and behavior.”

Thus violating their own motto (at least this is our state’s): “Moves hurt kids.”

I’m not complaining about the system. Right now, I’m just questioning it. I’m questioning if the whole foster care system is even operating as smoothly as it could be. Are America’s foster children being given the fairness and safety they deserve?

Are foster parents treated fairly when they form a bond and connection with the kids given to their care, provide a safe and loving roof over their head, and then the state rips them apart at a moment’s notice?

Are social workers being treated fair? Overworked, underpaid, overwhelmed.

If you’re a foster parent or know of any, what are your thoughts about the system? Where would you like to see improvement? Or is it as good as it could be? Share your thoughts below.

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Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

22 thoughts on “Is the Foster Care System Perfect?

  1. It is far from perfect. We lost two children we loved with all our heart. We were paying to have them in a specialized preschool because they were so woefully behind in learning and developmental skills. (C was three and not potty trained. Both were filthy, had lice, and had been abused and severely neglected.) When the mother realized she was going to lose child support money because she didn’t have the children anymore – she took them back. The daughter is now an unwed teen mother with two children with two different men…just like the example her mother set…and the boy has a growing rap sheet. There are also some excellent books written by victims of social service’s determination to send children back into dangerous situations if it reunites them with parents…(or a parent in our case), so I know our heartbreaking experience is not the only one. I praise God that you have been blessed with an easy route for both you and your daughter. We never got over losing our children. We withdrew from our role as foster parents afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If it’s government run it will be poorly run, low staff, no passion, not enough money. The system needs to be privatised by people who actually have a passion for children. The government hoops one would need to jump through to achieve this would be expensive and almost impossible here in Australia. I know this doesn’t help, but it’s the reality of a world with a growing government.


    1. This is so true. Putting a government in charge of anything invites failure, the only thing they’re successful at is creating more government. I was adopted but was never in the foster system, thank God. I came from a church sponsored program that worked so well my parents went back for two more kids. I don’t know how programs like that can survive, though, in such a heavily regulated world.


  3. Hi Andrew.

    I am very happy that things have worked out so well for you guys. You are very pleased to have had such an easy go of it. It doesn’t always work out that way so it makes me happy to hear the good stories.

    Our experience was the exact opposite. I am currently 53 and my husband is 59. In 2008, we were approached by an ex girlfriend of my husband’s. She wanted to know if we would be willing to foster 2 of her grandkids so they didn’t end up with strangers. Their mom had popped dirty once again. My husband was dating his ex when these two babies were born. He was actually at the hospital both times. In November of 2008, they were both just a few short weeks from their birthdays. “Jill” would be turning 8 and “Joe” would be turning 10. We were not approved foster parents but we could take them in as “fictive kin”. Sam nor I had ever had children. We were thrilled to take them in. We did have to go through a rigorous evaluation process that was very scary to me but we managed to pass the test. We had to prove we could support them because no support of ANY kind is given to fictive kin. I believe this needs to be changed as more kids would be able to live with people they at least know and are comfortable with.

    During the home study evaluation we were asked if we would be willing to adopt all 5 siblings or at least the 2 we were going to foster. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! The case worked stated that it would be a cold day in hell before he would let them go back to her. They had been through so much trauma and abuse already. We were led to believe that they would be ours. Stupid us. We actually believed him. Twenty-one months, twenty-two days, seven hours and fifteen minutes later, they were given back to mom. She had not completed a single thing that drug court ordered her to do before being eligible to get them back. She had even failed a couple of drug tests! Go figure.

    Of course, she lost them again. DFCS assured us many times that we would get them back for good if she lost them again. Stupid me, again. All lies. I can’t even count all the lies or the broken promises. If I had mad writing skills I would write a book about our experience. We did not get the kids back and they refused to tell us why. Had we done something wrong? We don’t know and we never will. I even filed complaints all the way to the state level and still couldn’t get answers. They did offer us the older sister. The one that has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. They forgot to mention that until several months AFTER we signed the guardianship papers. We still would have taken her had they made full disclosure. We would have had a better chance of helping her. Maybe.

    I really do wish I could write a book about our terrible experience with DFCS. I almost lost my marriage over it. When we finally figured out they weren’t going to give the little ones back to us no matter what we did, we started the grieving process. We are not allowed any communication until they become adults. It truly felt like the death of our two children. I battled suicidal ideations for over two years. My husband put a brick wall around his heart. I needed to be held while I sobbed my little heart out and he needed to not think about it at all. I couldn’t even say their names without him getting angry and walking away. I wanted to die and he wanted to pretend they never existed. It has been 5 1/2 years and I still can’t talk about them without sobbing. My cheeks are wet now. I want you to know that even with all the struggles and heartache I’ve had to deal with, I would do it all over again. I don’t regret our decision to take them.

    I’m sorry this is so long and not well written. My 13 year old nephew has ants in his pants because he wants to get back to our game of Scrabble. He lives with us now. Another story for another day.

    When I hear a story like yours, I feel like maybe there is hope for the system and the broken little children that so desperately need it to work.



    1. Leah my heart breaks for you!!! I want you to know that there are support groups on Facebook for parents that are in your situation. We just had to disrupt our oldest daughter’s adoption last April…… we adopted 6 kids and 4 had/have RAD. If you need support please let me know. I understand. If I cried over our daughter it would make my husband so mad. I understand him feeling that way but it didn’t help me…….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for the love. Losing the two younger ones literally had me on the verge of suicide for over two years. I can’t bring myself to box up any of the stuff that their mom left here when she picked them up. I had less than 30 minutes to try and pack their stuff and tell them how much we love them. My husband was 700 miles away and didn’t even get to say goodbye. This was his THIRD time losing them. Almost the entire time he was with their grandmother, the kids were with them. This mom did unspeakable things to all 5 of these kids. All documented and most of it substantiated. She managed to get into my safe on a visitation at our home and stole my pain meds. She stole money, clothes, over 40 music cd’s, my Garmin GPS, postal stamps, dvd’s and my electric skillet. That’s just what my tired brain can think of right now. I was so nieve. The kids felt more comfortable seeing their mom in our home. Silly me allowed it. We’ll, on the rare occasion she was actually sober enough to show up.
        I can’t for the life of me understand why this country is so willing to throw money away on stupid stuff but not provide enough funds to hire and train enough CPS workers so that they could do their jobs properly. They have way too many cases, far too much redundant paperwork and no time for proper investigations. I would never want to see children ripped from their homes and families due to false allegations and yet we know it happens every day in this country. Just as children are returned to dangerous parents every day. Tragically, many are placed with sadistic and/or unfit foster parents. We have to do something to fix this tragic state of affairs.

        I need to throw this next bit of info out there because unless someone has been involved in foster parenting, it is highly unlikely that they will have any idea how much more these kids have to endure.

        More often than people realize, children who turn 18 while in a foster home often become homeless on that very day. I have heard many stories over the last 6 years of foster kids waking up on what should be a joyful day just to find a single suitcase sitting by the front door. Still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and wondering if someone has come for the weekend to help celebrate this grand event with them, all to quickly it becomes crystal clear they will be homeless and alone on this no longer happy day. Many states do not have the resources to continue paying foster care support for these “adults” and foster parents often can’t afford to keep them without that little monthly check. Sadly, there are many that could do swing it financially but could care less about what happens to them now. Not their problem. Please understand, I am not saying there aren’t many amazing foster parents in this country. There most certainly are. Sometimes it’s about nothing more than supply and demand. For every child aging out of the system there is another child or children that need that bedroom.

        We need more families willing to take these kids in so they still have a home and family while they attend college or start working and earn enough to get out there in this dog eat dog world and feel strong enough to make it. You never know how many lives you may save. Literally. Many of these kids are good kids that want a good life and are still searching for that forever family.

        I am begging everyone that reads this response to share this information with as many people as you can. I know there are a lot of empty nesters out there who don’t want an empty and quiet house. These kids are our future. We must help them. Boy is my 13 year old in for a big surprise when he comes home for his first holiday weekend after starting college! He will have a new brother. You don’t have to have the same genes to be family. Even though I have never experienced more agonizing pain in my life, I would never give up one single moment of my time with “our babies”.

        I’m sorry for rambling. I had to get that last part out there.




    2. Of course the system is broken…… caseworkers over worked and the children are just cases…….there are laws that they have to abide by that Isn’t good then they get blamed for being bad caseworkers. They have no training dealing with reactive attachment disorder. There is no support for parents that has kids with RAD. Most parents that have children that have RAD goes through investigations and the investigators have no training and many parents are falsely accused. The investigators need specialized training. Which really can only come with living with a child with RAD but training will help.

      Reunification……. I would hope that if I lost my kids that I would have a chance to get my kids back. IF I lost my kids it would be over false allegations or for those that don’t know if you child hurts another child you can lose your kids for failure to protect. BUT I know one sibling group that we had for a week go home and come back into care at least 7 times……. that is beyond ridiculous!!!! Then there’s my oldest son that was kept in a change and had a broken arm, fractured skull, broken leg and broken ribs, scars from the top of his head to the soles of his feet and scars in his mouth that has made a few nurses almost holler what the blank happened to him. His medical records says tortured to many scars to count. There is much more than even this and even being born addicted to heroine and crack yet they were sending him home and even got weekend visits. There needs to be a line drawn somewhere when it comes to reunification ………there’s so much more that I could say but lol then I would be writing a book …….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s definitely a broken system. But what is the solution? I’m not sure but sometimes I think people have kids before they actually consider what it means to raise a child. If all people had to go through the classes/training involved to be a foster parents BEFORE they can have their own kids, that would definitely be an improvement but I don’t think that will ever happen. Maybe if all new parents had a team in place from the start to help with parenting and everything else.


    1. I don’t think that would happen either, and I agree, the problem starts with the parents, but the problem is there nonetheless – we just don’t know how to fix it.


  5. I mean I understand the intent is well but if the parents have lost their children they shouldn’t get them back. While I’m sure there are many parents that will change their behavior, more often than not, people don’t change. Great post!


    1. I agree. If a parent does change, they will get everyone’s attention – I believe a radical change will not go unnoticed.


  6. “Are foster parents treated fairly when they form a bond and connection with the kids given to their care, provide a safe and loving roof over their head, and then the state rips them apart at a moment’s notice?”

    I have known many foster parents, so I am going to comment here. Also, as a child abuse survivor and a past Specialized Foster Care Case Worker, this topic always touches me.

    The quote from your post is one that always breaks my heart in many ways. I cannot go into all the ways that I feel the system needs to be changed. That would take an entire post or many posts.

    I really just wanted to say this. And know it is said with all the kindness and respect that I am offering from my heart. Please, do not go into fostering children with the expectation that you will have the child/sibling group permanently. That is not what fostering is meant to be. It is meant to provide a loving, safe environment for a child when their life has been disrupted, for a multitude of reasons. Until it can be determined if the problems that disrupted it can be helped, another solution is more viable, or until a time it is decided they are going to be placed for adoption or permanent placement.

    I know that many, many foster parents want to adopt a child. Good foster parents will form a bond and connect with the child in their home. They will give that child love, safety, smiles, and laughter. Maybe for the first time. Sadly, maybe the only time. Regardless of the outcome, please know that fostering is one of the kindest acts of humanity you can do in this lifetime. Yes, the system is broken and politicized on both sides of the coin. But know that you will never be forgotten by a child that you love. -CC


  7. The foster system breaks my heart. In fact, my second book stemmed from the fact that I can’t stand to hear stories about kids who have slipped through the cracks- kids whose only mistake was being born into the wrong situation. I often ask myself, “what can I do to help?” If you have any ideas, let me know!


  8. Slightly off topic here, still, I am compelled to share this. The line “Are social workers being treated fair? Overworked, underpaid, overwhelmed.” caught my attention most: though not a foster parent (than for few puppies and kittens I gave for adoption once they were fit to survive few years back), I guess that statement of yours makes a lot of sense to me as a social worker – adding, we are unfairly bound by social expectations!

    In a recent incident, someone blamed openly that the organisation I am associated with is “wasting money from donors” because we arranged a staff retreat (and that was one in last two years) for our 15+ staff who work day and night for the cause of empowering the disabled.

    Working day and night, earning very meagre amount not even enough to support ourselves often leaving us starving for a good cause, still the society expects us not to have a life for ourselves, “hypothetically” denying us of a personal life!

    But the smile of one child who walks for the first time in his life in front of you, the tears of the parents who have been carrying them all through their life till that day, keeps us running, reminding us we are too humans, with a soul, flesh, and emotions like anyone working in a corporate company, and rise above all such insults!


  9. Unfortunately the system is broken, but that’s why Foster families are more valuable now, more than ever. We have to be strong and we have to be determined to be the voice for the child. I have no issue speaking at panels or in court, because I live with him everyday. I also know that, despite my opinion and efforts, the kid may go home. And it will hurt. And I will cry. But he deserves to have an advocate. And as for social workers, I know my state is struggling right now. Workers are quitting because of heavy work loads and lack of pay, but then their work load gets distributed to their already overloaded coworkers. It’s a sad cycle.


  10. It seems even everyone on the outside who has no gain can clearly see its not in the kids best interests most of the time, but children services still reunifies. I see people comment on social media their anger with birth parents who abused or killed a child that the news posts. They comment “they should never get their kids back” and “they shouldn’t even be considered parents.” If they only knew how strong parental rights are, even if their ‘care’ is poor. We know what we signed up for, but the grieving and heart break is so real. I believe the children deserve the bonding more than protecting our hearts. I also feel if you’re licensed foster to adopt they explain less to you regarding the case thinking you’re only out to adopt. Often times you feel like you’re just a glorified baby sitter. Except you do it all. You manage the behaviors and tantrums, the tears and sleepless nights. Thankfully your daughter did not have to have any visits. They are hard for everyone!


    1. We lucked out with our daughter in every way imaginable. But yes, with our third, we definitely feel like glorified babysitters, except not glorified at all. We’re dreading what will happen to him when he goes back to his mom and her boyfriend.


  11. My county works hard to offer services to families so children don’t need to be removed from their homes. When the county does bring children into care, the social workers try very hard to help parents fix problems so kids can go home. I fully support that.

    The social workers regularly talk about how reunification is best for children, even if the home life is not ideal. Then they go on to talk about kids who age out being more likely to serve jail time, be homeless, have drug problems, etc.

    But a real scientific study would look at kids who went back to their parents, kids who went to other relatives, kids who were adopted by non-relatives (such as foster parents), and kids who aged out. Does anyone know of such a study?

    A scientific study would also need to look at variables such as the type, severity, and duration of abuse or neglect and see how that impacts outcomes for children who are reunited, adopted, or age out. My guess is that kids who stayed in care suffered more abuse or more severe abuse – and that’s why they didn’t go back home. That would athen account for why their outcomes as adults are less ideal – or at least account for it in part.

    Anyway, I would really love to see this study to better understand what is and is not beneficial for children in care.


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