By Modou Nyang
It’s not easy to Find a parent. and it’s not easy to be one.
The ACS Children’s Center on First Avenue at 29th Street.
Fewer children are entering foster care in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2019 preliminary management report shows. But the recruitment of foster parents to care for the children coming into the city’s child care system remains a problem.
The Administration of Children’s Services (ACS), the agency that oversees the welfare of children in the city, has launched a five-year plan to change its foster parent recruitment and retention strategy. The goal is to increase placements of foster children with next of kin or other close relatives under the Home Away from Home initiative. The program is in line with the federal Family First Act, which prioritizes placement of children with family members over group homes or residential facilities.
The mayor’s report shows that out of the 8,420 foster children currently enrolled in the city’s child care system, 3,131 are in kinship homes. Another 4,505 children are in non-relative’s foster homes and 785 are in “residential care” or group homes. ACS also reported that it certified 21% new foster homes in 2018.
Foster parent recruitment and retention has been historically challenging, according to Amy Drayer, director of foster, kinship and parent group services at the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition in New York. She said the opioid epidemic has now further compounded the problem: “Kids are coming into care, and there just aren’t enough homes to care for them.”
The best way to recruit other foster parents is from people who are already fostering. They can put up a billboard, they can put up an ad, but you want to talk to people who’ve done it.
Drayer said a major problem in the recruitment of foster parents is the negative public opinion about foster parenting. She said people who had had bad experiences as foster parents tend to be more vocal. “The best way to recruit other foster parents is from people who are already fostering,” said Drayer. “They can put up a billboard, they can put up an ad, but you gonna want to talk to people who’ve done it. It’s all about connection and positive experience is a connection.”
Bertha Paterson was a foster parent since 1998 until she stopped a few years ago because of the bureaucracy involved. Paterson now leads a group in the Bronx where she advises foster parents how to navigate the system. “They tie your hands up with a lot of bureaucracy,” said Paterson. She added that said most caseworkers are overloaded and end up not doing their work properly. “It turns out to be your work and it becomes overwhelming,” she said.
Paterson said foster children usually have a lot of appointments for services and foster parents are required to regularly take them to those visitations. “They never take the foster parents in consideration, that you have a job,” Paterson said, noting that agencies prefer recruiting foster parents who work but often fail to consider their schedules and jobs. “Anybody that works knows you can’t just take off and keep leaving your job because somebody’s not taking into consideration your hours or days or your needs.”
Paterson said a lot of the biological parents of foster children tell their children to tell lies against their foster parents, hoping that will get them returned home. Such accusations could land a foster parent in trouble or even cost them their job. “If you are a schoolteacher, you don’t have a job no more. If you are nurse, you can’t work in a pediatric unit, you can’t work anywhere else dealing with kids because they get this neglect on your record,” Paterson said.
The process of becoming a foster parent takes several months to complete. Once an application is made, a potential foster parent goes through a 30-hour training program called Model Approach to Partnerships and Parenting. The training assesses a person’s capability and readiness to become a foster parent. A background check and financial status assessment follows to verify that an applicant pays his or her bills and is not trying to become a foster parent for financial reasons.
Finally, an applicant’s home is assessed to determine its suitability to host children before certification is granted. A monthly stipend ranging between $650 to $1,500 is allocated to foster parents to care for a foster child.
Finding someone who can say, “This is exactly what you need to do” is extremely important. When people are connected, they don’t feel so hopeless, like I can’t do this anymore.
Grace Zarate, founder of the Concourse Village Circle of Support, a foster parent support group in the Bronx, said she became a foster parent to make a difference in children’s lives. Zarate, 77, has fostered over 90 children since 1990. She adopted seven among them.
Her experiences were good, Zarate said. “They have learned from me to the point that during holidays, they do come to my house, or they call me to wish me a happy holiday.” Zarate said she no longer fosters; she helps other foster parents by providing information on how to work through the system.
Parent support circles are important components in the foster care system. “Finding someone who can say this is exactly what you need to do,” Drayer said, “is extremely important. When people are connected, they don’t feel so hopeless, like I can’t do this anymore.”