Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents

May 26, 2020
Parent's and child's hands holding a small house.

By Jerry Milner, associate commissioner, Children's Bureau

After having children of their own, the Grossmans decided to help other children in their community by becoming resource parents. Shortly after becoming eligible, the family received a call to care for a 4-week-old baby girl who weighed in at just 5 pounds, 14 ounces as a result of postbirth complications.

As the Grossmans were learning how to care for this baby girl, they met her biological father at their local child welfare office. “I just want my baby girl back,” the man pleaded. Mr. Grossman assured him, “We just want to care for her until she’s able to come back to you.” The Grossmans then met the baby’s mother, who was more hesitant to meet the couple caring for her daughter.

The Grossmans began writing notes to the baby’s parents to update them about her progress. They would slip the notes into the baby’s diaper bag, which they sent with the child to every parent-child visit. The parents eventually started writing back, sharing information about their daughter and the steps they were taking to regain custody.

Five months after they picked up the baby girl from the hospital, the Grossmans found out the baby would soon be reunified with her parents. The Grossmans shared their contact information and invited the baby’s parents to reach out if they ever needed anything.

Ten days after the baby girl returned home, Ms. Grossman received a picture of the smiling baby from her mother. From there, the Grossman's relationship with the family only continued to grow. They continued to talk and text and offer support whenever needed. Three years later, the Grossmans are now the little girl’s godparents, and the two families have spent every Thanksgiving together.

This is just one of many powerful stories that personifies the theme for the 2020 National Foster Care Month—“Foster Care as a Support to Families, not a Substitute for Parents.” It illustrates how supportive networks can strengthen families and improve outcomes for children and families involved with foster care. Through true partnership with and listening to the family of the child they cared for, the Grossmans were reminded that there is another side to every placement. “We just treated them the way we would want to be treated, like the hard-working parents they are.” The reality is that many children in the foster care system have at least one family member working hard so their child can return home safely. In fact, 56 percent of children who exited foster care in fiscal year 2018 left to be reunited with their birth parents or primary caretakers.1

This year’s National Foster Care Month theme recognizes those who provide support to families when they need it the most and care for children until they can safely return home. This can only happen when all parties involved in the family’s life work together. Collaborative relationships—such as those between out-of-home caregivers and biological parents or those between child welfare and related professionals, families, and community partners—help drive healthy and thriving children and families.

The Children's Bureau supports this year’s campaign through activities and resources, including the 2020 National Foster Care Month website Visit disclaimer page, which offers information and resources on the implementation of family voice in permanency planning; a continued focus on parent-foster parent partnership; and collaboration with courts and related professionals to strengthen and support families, improve well-being, and increase the likelihood of successful reunification. The website also shares real-life stories Visit disclaimer page, like the Grossman’s, that focus on how collaborative relationships through the child welfare system can strengthen the capacity of families to nurture and provide for the well-being of their children. The Spread the Word section Visit disclaimer page of the National Foster Care Month website can help share these stories and other useful resources through a toolkit to help child welfare professionals and community advocates engage the public through outreach and social media activities.

During May, and all year long, we salute all the caregivers, case managers, community-based service providers, and volunteers who nurture and support children and families working toward reunification or permanency. Visit the National Foster Care Month website Visit disclaimer page today to learn more about keeping families healthy, strong, and together.