Foster Care Shortage in Philadelphia
On an evening in March, a director from Catholic Social Services answered eight calls at his home from the Department of Human Services. Earlier that week, he answered five calls from a county referral agency. All of the callers were looking for the same thing: a safe home for a vulnerable child. A child whose own home had become too unsafe or too unhealthy to live in, or a child who was suffering from abuse and neglect.
Some of the calls resulted in placements. Most calls did not because of the shortage of available resource parents. The City of Philadelphia estimates that there are roughly 4,300 children in foster care at any given time. On a typical day, more than a dozen children are waiting to be placed.
In Philadelphia, the demand for foster parents (also know as resource parents) has increased in recent years, outstripping the numbers of individuals ready and able to welcome a child into their home. Families and individuals are desperately needed to care for at-risk children on a temporary basis until they can live safely in their own homes and communities.
Pandemic Stalled Permanency Plans
As we continue to assess the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked on every segment of society, we find that the child welfare system has not gone unscathed. The number of families and individuals providing foster care has steadily decreased since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, the healing process that often takes place in foster care, and the movement towards wellness and wholeness, has been slowed by pandemic restrictions, and in some cases, halted altogether.
Case Managers, family members, and biological parents work hard throughout the foster care process to plan for permanency (a plan for where children will live when they leave foster care) and reunification, (getting the biological family safely back together.) However, during the pandemic, paths to permanency and reunification were impeded. A study done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, revealed that while fewer youth entered foster care during the pandemic, the number of children leaving foster care and being reunited with their birth parents also diminished.
Infants and Toddlers
The fastest growing group of children who need placement in foster homes are infants and toddlers. In metropolitan areas, like Philadelphia, especially hard hit by the opioid crisis, this number continues to grow. A review of federally mandated data collections revealed that the proportion of children entering foster care due to parental drug use in 2000 was 14%. But by 2017, that same proportion had grown to 36%.
Another rapidly growing demographic in foster care is teenagers. Agencies are seeing more and more referrals of children between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.
Older teens pose unique challenges in foster care. They sometimes have behavioral health needs, academic and school issues, or learning differences. Placements are harder to find for this age group.
Family Reunification or Adoption?
The best home for a child is generally agreed to be the one he or she shares with biological parents, as long as that home is a safe, stable and loving one. In the vast majority of foster care arrangements, children are returned to their biological parents when the issues that resulted in temporary parenting are resolved. Rarely, the issues cannot be resolved, and adoption becomes the best course of action.
The choice to foster and adopt a child is a decision arrived at with the help of a social worker and foster care agency in consultation with family court representatives. Permanent families are sought when it is determined that reunification with birth families can’t be achieved. In these cases, foster parents sometimes adopt children they have been fostering.
Because foster care adoptions are not common, couples and individuals who want to become an adoptive family don’t usually look to the foster care system as their first adoption resource. However, if the goals set forth for biological families cannot be met, adoption is an option.
Becoming a Resource Parent
A warm bed in a safe and secure home, clean clothes to wear, food on the table, and a quiet place to do homework. These are things that most children can count on, and most parents find joy in providing. But there are hundreds of children living in Philadelphia right now who can only dream of those things.
Providing a safe, secure home for a vulnerable child or teen is an awesome responsibility. It is life-changing for the child, and can be both rewarding and challenging for the foster family. The decision to foster a child, or children, should not be undertaken lightly.
It is a decision to be arrived at after much self reflection, prayer, and an honest assessment of one’s own abilities. Most people spend between eighteen months and two years thinking about fostering before they commit to the process. The certification process is extensive and thorough and requires several months to complete. Extreme care is taken to insure the safety of children and the fitness of resource families and homes.
Requirements for Foster Parenting
- Must be at least 21 years old.
- Must have a safe, stable residence with appropriate furnishings.
- Must be healthy enough to provide care for children.
- Must be able to pass criminal, child abuse and FBI background checks.
- Must be able to complete the home study process.
- Must be able to provide support to children and their families.
A Parent and A Role Model
While their children are in foster care, biological parents are tasked with reaching certain goals in order to be reunited with their children. Goals such as sobriety, alcohol or drug rehabilitation, gainful employment, and adequate housing. As a foster parent, you will be called upon to be a loving temporary parent, as well as a role model and mentor for the parents of origin.
It is vitally important to the foster child that they are helped to maintain the integrity of their relationships with their birth parents and extended families in order to pave the way for successful reunification, when possible. You will not only foster a child, but will foster his or her relationships with the family of origin. That might mean visitations, conversations, or invitations to the birth parent(s) to attend events, parties, or outings with the foster family.
Answering the Call of Scripture
As Catholics, we are called by the scriptures to do whatever is in our power or ability to care for and love all of God’s children. One way to answer this call is to provide a loving, safe and stable home where children can live, play, work, and study while their birth parents work toward resolving their issues.
The number of at-risk children in Philadelphia is growing. Although more than 4,000 infants, children and teens have been placed in foster homes in the last year, more are waiting for the safety and security that foster homes provide. Catholic Social Services is passionate about providing a path to a healthy, happy future for at-risk children in Philadelphia. To do this, they need to recruit and retain dedicated resource families.
Could you provide the care, consistency and loving attention so desperately needed by a child living in a chaotic and unstable home? Foster parents come from all walks of life, all faiths, nationalities and income levels. CSS can work with you to determine if becoming a resource parent is right for you. You can begin the process by contacting CSS, or completing the on-line form.