April is Child Abuse Prevention month, so I figured if I’m going to write a post on it, I better get on it!
I’ve spent some time this month thinking about what we as foster parents can do to prevent child abuse (ya know, in all my extra ‘thinking’ time.). This might seem silly, some people would probably say that by fostering that is exactly what we are doing. In some ways, they are right.
Most of the time, though, it seems that we as foster parents are acting as a band-aid on a much, much larger issue – a system of issues really. Don’t get me wrong, it is a necessary and very much needed band-aid, but a band-aid none the less. I’m not going to pretend that I have some ven-diagram of all the issues surrounding foster care, or a thesis on how to fix it – but just in my time as a social worker and a foster parent, this is what I’ve come up with:
I think one of the most important things that we can do to prevent child abuse is to form strong and open relationships with the parents of the children we serve. I know this isn’t always possible for a million different reasons, but I think that often times it is possible. By developing real relationships with bio parents, we can work as support for them, we can cheer them on in their efforts toward reunification, and we can work as parenting role models. All of these are crucial for a system that is going to work toward healing families. As if those weren’t good enough reasons to form relationships with bio parents – it can also lead to a more lasting, long term relationship with our kids. If our kids end up going home, and we have a good relationship with their parents, it makes it more likely that we will get to keep in touch with the family, and in doing so, we can keep tabs on how things are going – good or bad, and therefore preventing child abuse.
Forming these relationships is not always easy, but as long as it’s safe, it’s always best for our kids in the long run.
Another (obvious) thing we need to be doing is to be active in our kids’ cases. To advocate for them always. To annoy caseworkers when they need to be annoyed, and write letters to judges when they need to be written. After all, we’re working for the kids, not for the caseworkers or court.
I think the other thing that we can do, that is oftentimes hard for foster parents, is to truly be for reunification. We’re never going to send our kids home to ideal situations, and there will always be risks, but if it is safe our kids need to be home. If we can really work toward reunification with the families when it is possible, in the end it is going to help to make ‘the system’ work. If we can rally behind reunification when it is safe, then there are more foster homes for kids who truly cannot go home. Sometimes it is really hard when it hits so close to home, but when reunification is possible, it is our job to help that happen.
What are your thoughts? As foster parents, how can we help prevent future child abuse?