How does the foster care system work?

Graschelle Hipolito, Editor-in-Chief

Most people have a general idea of what foster care is, but the specifics about how children navigate through the foster care system remains, for the most part, obscure.

In broad terms, foster care is a federal system in which children are placed in the care of people other than their biological parents and are under the responsibility of the state agency.  In the case of an unsuitable living environment under the care of their biological parents, children will preferably be placed in the home of relatives.

If the child cannot live with a relative, care providers working with social services provide children with an alternative home — licensed foster parents.  Many families welcome foster children into their homes, but they must first be certified to assume responsibility and complete training to become licensed.

However, the primary goal of the foster care system is to reunite foster children with their birth parents.  A parent who is deemed unfit to care for the child may be required to take parenting classes or attend rehab until proven more stable.

Agency social workers are assigned cases with foster children and must personally visit them on a monthly basis to check up on their well-being.  County social workers work with a judge to handle the legal aspects of each case.

“[Social workers] make sure you’re being treated with the rights you’ve been given by the state since you’re no longer a child of your parent,” senior Cory Osbourne, who is in the foster care system, said.  “Their job is to make sure you’re being treated fairly.”

Foster children who require more intensive structured care may be placed in group homes, which offer centralized supervision and support for those who have emotional or behavioral problems.  Group homes may vary in their targeted residents, such as foster children dealing with substance abuse or who have been victims of sexual abuse.

Typically, foster children in group homes live with six or more other children or teens under the care of licensed “house parents” or employees under a state-funded foster company.  A girls group home in Stockton, for example, resembles the structure of a family household in its rules and roles.

“We pick them up, take them on appointments, drop them off and pick them up from their jobs, we cook, we clean, [and] we help with homework,” an employee at a Stockton group home, who asked to be called “Lady,” said.  “We basically do what parents do.”

Although the foster care system aims to reunite children with their biological parents or place them in the healthiest environment possible, foster children’s well being depend on their ability to adapt to their experience and learn from every obstacle presented.

“I’ve been brought up in the system, so it’s all I know, [but] I still wouldn’t want sympathy,” senior Jhordan Spain said.  “I don’t have a problem with it because it’s who I am.  I don’t want to hide myself because it’s all I have.”