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2.1 CHANGING EXPECTATIONS

In years past, being a foster parent was simpler and much easier. It was enough to be a good person and to provide concerned care for children. What's more, the children in care were far easier to manage. Children with serious behavior problems or who didn't adjust easily to foster families were simply sent to children's homes, group homes, residential facilities, or institutions.

Within those settings, there was much more tolerance for behavior and patterns of adjustment that would have been unacceptable in families. Instead of helping the children deal with and resolve their problems, they were merely seen as children who couldn't adjust to family life and who had to have group or residential care. Typically, the explanation was the children had attachment or behavior problems and couldn't deal with close family relationships.

Even those children placed into care were there conditionally. If the child had trouble adjusting or the foster parent had difficulty managing the child, the child was moved. The child could be "tried" in another foster home or placed in a group or institutional setting. Moving children around was just business as usual.

For far too many children, bouncing from place to place was how they spent their childhoods. Of course, if they didn't have significant problems with attachment and close relationships when this moving around process started, they usually developed them sooner or later.

In recent years, many of the children who previously would have gone into residential and institutional care are now in foster care. Those children who do go into residential treatment facilities are expected to "step down" into foster care, once their behavior and adjustment problems are lessened. The result is any child who comes into care is more likely to have serious behavior and adjustment problems than would have been the case only a few years ago.

This shift from institutional to foster care has been very good news for children. Even though they do have behavior and adjustment problems, these difficulties are viewed differently. Instead of seeing them as "conditions" the children have which are related to attachment or other disorders, they are seen as normal and expected. Children can't just be abruptly taken away from what they have known and put into a strange environment without some problems adjusting.

Compounding the challenge for foster parents, children coming into care today are more likely than in past years to have been affected by unconscionable family and neighborhood violence, drug abuse, severe poverty, criminal activity, and extreme parental and family dysfunction. This means children in care may be very challenging. Simply being a good person and assuring a safe home for them will likely, by themselves, not be enough.

Along with the many challenges children in care bring to you, the expectations for foster families have changed. At the heart of these changes are changing expectations for public and private child protection agencies. At local, state, and national levels, law-makers have become much more critical of what happens to children once they come into care.

Hundreds of thousands of children remained in out-of-home care for years after they were separated from their families. These children drifted in and out of the system. They moved from foster home to foster home. Many were uprooted from their neighborhoods, their schools, their families, and their personal cultures. Yes, some developed and adjusted successfully; but far too many didn't. The urgent need to improve the life prospects for these lost children was the main reason why caring foster parents were no longer enough. It was clear the children deserved and had to have more.

From your point of view:

Write your thoughts after each question.

What are the effects of family and neighborhood violence, drug abuse, poverty, criminal activity, and severe parental and family dysfunction for growing children?

What happens to children when they are abruptly uprooted from their neighborhoods, their schools, their families, and their personal cultures?

What happens to children who are moved into and out of the system or are moved from foster home to foster home?

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net