CONCORD, NH – On January 23, 2018 foster parents, state representatives, and others testified in front of the Children and Law Committee at the State House about the Foster Parent Bill of Rights (HB1562). It’s no secret that New Hampshire, along with the rest of the country, is desperate to retain and recruit foster parents. From January to May of 2017 the need for foster parents was up 25 percent and according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) there were 1,898 youths needing some type of placement and 737 foster homes in 2016, leaving the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in need of 1,161 placements. A Foster Parent Bill of Rights demonstrates that foster parents are valued, respected and honored for their service to the children of our state.
Foster parents who feel unsupported, dismissed or exploited will not feel valued. The child welfare system, although well-meaning, has inadvertently created a disconnection in foster care that is in dire need of repair. Every state across the country is suffering from a foster home shortage as the drug epidemic plagues our country. New Hampshire has the #1 death rate in the country for overdoses on Fentanyl, the 2nd highest death rate in the United States for opioid overdoses in general, and our state has the 4th highest drug use and addiction ranking in the entire country. Not only is DCYF dealing with an astronomical need for homes for children removed from substance misusing parents, they are also dealing with the repercussions of a nation-wide child welfare system that no longer serves all the modern needs of children, families or foster parents.
A Foster Parent Bill of Rights will help rebuild trust throughout the foster care community and beyond. By creating better connections and cultivating better relationships, foster parents will be assured that their time is valuable, their love is indispensable and their insights about the children are important.
Trust is at the root of social welfare reform, especially for a system such as the foster care system which relies on foster parents to be the front line providers of care to children. A Foster Parent Bill of Rights ensures that reciprocity must take place in a respectful manner. Investing in our children today helps break the cycles of abuse, neglect, poverty and multi-generational foster care placements tomorrow. Investing in our foster parents creates a value system that will inevitably be passed down to the children they care for.
Healing a child’s trauma is best achieved when everyone involved in a foster child’s care plan can come together with a child’s best interests as the central focus for permanency. A Milwaukee study noted that children with only one child protection worker achieved permanency in 74.5% of the time but as the number of case workers increased, the percentage of children achieving permanency substantially dropped, ranging from 17.5% transitioning to two case workers, to a low of 0.1% having six and seven case workers. Foster parents are often the most consistent sources of information about a child’s daily life, growth and development, as well as a child’s coping ability, mental health and well-being.
Communication is a key component of the Foster Parent Bill of Rights. Foster parents report that they do not feel heard and that their concerns about the child they care for are being disregarded. These troubles are not unique to New Hampshire. In a recent nationwide Foster Care Institute survey, 76% of foster parents reported that they do not feel included as part of a foster child’s care team. When asked if they feel included in decision making in regards to the child in their home, only 24% feel that they do, while 47% state that they sometimes do, and 29% stated that they never do. The New Hampshire foster parent resource guide states that, “foster parents are part of a team” and “foster parents are in an excellent position to evaluate the child’s current needs and to contribute this information to case planning,” yet why do foster parents not feel well regarded or included by the rest of the care team? (p. 5)
A Foster Parent Bill of Rights will ensure that DCYF regards foster parents are reliable sources of information and that trusting relationships and secure attachments are the foundation of lifelong well-being for children and their birth families. When DCYF, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) or the courts choose not to include foster parents in the process, they are sending the message that they trust foster parents enough to care for a child 24/7, but that they do not trust the foster parent to accurately report on the development and needs of his/her foster child.
Foster parents are concerned about a child’s health and physical safety and best interests; this is an expectation for fostering, but protecting the safety of a child’s emotional and psychological needs is the responsibility of everyone on the care team. A traumatized child’s intrinsic need for deep connections builds upon attachments and bonding with caregivers and family. To disregard a foster parents role and investment in a child’s attachment with her or her foster parent, disregards DCYF’s efforts to carry-out trauma informed care. Birth parents as well as foster children must feel valued and connected to maintain attachments and to be emotionally and psychologically healthy. When a child enters foster care the foster family most often becomes a healthy source of attachment, which helps a child heal from the trauma of being removed from his/her home.
A Foster Parent Bill of Rights respects the role that a foster family plays in a child’s life. As DCYF and other collateral agencies and stakeholders increase their knowledge about the impact of childhood trauma, the more closely they will be able to examine the need for trauma informed care that includes increased foster parent input. A well thought out and detailed Foster Parent Bill of Rights safeguards the integrity of every foster parent who has chosen to step up and help serve the children of his/her community. The selflessness of a foster parent’s love, time and efforts must be respected and honored.
In conclusion, it is clear that we need to change the culture of our child welfare system and regain the trust of former foster parents. Foster parent advocates and DCYF must show current and prospective foster parents that they are important and that their role in a foster child’s life is valuable. A Foster Parent Bill of Rights will build trust throughout the state of NH and begin a movement in which our neighbors feel invested enough to help children and families escape the throes of addiction, abuse and neglect and have healthy and safe futures.
A closer look is being taken at foster care and how DCYF treats foster parents and children in their care. Today the New Hampshire Executive Council has approved Governor Chris Sununu’s nomination of Moira O’Neill as director of a new office to help better protect children: the Office of the Child Advocate. State representatives and others signed 19-0 in favor of the Foster Parent Bill of Rights (HB1562) on Tuesday and a sub-committee has been assigned to more closely examine written testimonies that were submitted this week and to learn more about the impact that this bill will have on foster care in our state. This sub-committee meeting is open to the public: Feb. 2, 2018- 1PM, Legislative Office Building (LOB), 33 N. State Street in Concord behind the State House, Room 206.
Want to become a foster parent? Be sure to visit the DHHS DCYF website. For more information about helping to “foster change” in NH’s child welfare system follow Fostering Change: Alliance for NH Foster Parents on Facebook or Twitter or check out their website. The Alliance is a completely independent foster parent association for foster parents, legal guardians and/or kinship providers who care for foster children in NH.