Although I’ve never personally lived in foster care, I have two family members that did for several years of their lives. After seeing them grow up in those circumstances, I can somewhat relate to fostered children through the experiences they have lived through.
There are many unjustified stigmas and misconceptions about children in the foster care system. The current state of foster care in the U.S. highlights the fact that fostered youth enter the system through no fault of their own. They have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect.
After placing yourself in their shoes, you’ll recognize that life is not all sunshine and rainbows for a child in foster care. The toxicity of unwarranted stigmas only adds to the struggles that fostered youth must face. These misconceptions are wildly inaccurate and disheartening. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about children in the foster care system.
1. Foster Care is Punishment For Delinquents
Many people incorrectly assume that foster children are a part of the system because they have a proven track record of being difficult to deal with, or only cause trouble. I experienced this attitude firsthand when a classmate of mine made the connection between chemists and those who manufacture hard drugs like meth (I can only imagine how this would have amplified if Breaking Bad existed at the time).
He then proceeded to make the distinction between meth heads ending up in jail, “just like troublemakers end up in Juvie or foster homes.”
His opinion is not only bothersome, but it is also wildly inaccurate. Foster kids are not delinquents, they are kids searching for a safe environment to live and grow in.
2. Foster Kids and Orphans Are Creepy or Scary
In 2009, the atrocity of a film, Orphan, hit theatres. Aside from the poor writing, sub-par filming techniques, and a predictable climax this movie managed to also project some toxic stigmas about children in foster care.
Orphan creates an eerie presence that’s centered around the idea that the adopted child, Esther, has a dark, creepy past. She is perceived to be evil in numerous ways. When it’s finally announced that Esther is actually not a child but in fact a murderous thirty-something year old, the film does nothing to clear up the stigmas it creates.
It’s certainly not surprising that this movie wasn’t received well, especially by those with ties to the social work or adoption community. “It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own” was the film’s original tagline. The highly insensitive slogan was later replaced with the tagline “I don’t think Mommy likes me very much,” which is hardly considered an improvement.
In an article posted to The Daily Beast, author and mother of five orphaned children, Melissa Fay Greene, stated:
“The movie Orphan comes directly from this unexamined place in popular culture. Esther’s shadowy past includes Eastern Europe; she appears normal and sweet, but quickly turns violent and cruel, especially toward her mother. These are clichés. This is the baggage with which we saddle abandoned, orphaned, or disabled children given a fresh start at family life.”
3. Fostered Kids Are More Likely to Be Bullies
My nephews grew up in a less than ideal household surrounded by addiction and abuse. They faced the biggest struggles of their young lives just as they were entering school for the first time. School should have been a safe haven but instead it became a breeding ground for bullying. It’s hard to imagine what that must feel like, especially when forced to constantly relocate and start fresh at an unfamiliar school.
For whatever reason people assume that those in foster care are likely to be bullies. This is so far from the truth, it’s painful. In reality those facing instability, especially at a young age, are more prone to being bullied.
When a child stands out or is perceived to be different, the way they are seen by their peers can become convoluted. This often times results in irrational behavior that transitions into bullying. Furthermore, those in foster care typically have to move a lot and are always viewed as the ‘new kid’. The vicious cycle of bullying can become a regular occurrence, and that is troubling to say the least.
However, these cases of bullying do not always go unheard. They are all direct examples of why school counselors fulfill an important role within the education system.
4. Foster Kids Are Typically Minorities
It is widely assumed that minorities and foster care go hand-in-hand. While these two things may correlate, the facts point out that kids in foster care are racially and ethnically diverse.
According to recent data , approximately 42% of children in foster care are White, 26% are Black, 21% are Hispanic, and the remaining 9% are multiracial (6%), American Indian (2%), and Asian (1%).
5. Same Sex Couples Should Not Foster Children
This misconception that same sex couples are any less capable than other couples could not be more close-minded and false. Currently, only two states have any laws preventing same sex couples from becoming foster parents. Those two states are Utah and Nebraska. Ironically, gay marriage is 100% legal in those states. So where does the problem lie? Short answer, nowhere.
Same sex marriages have proven to be just as healthy as those deemed ‘traditional’. And the divorce rate of those deemed ‘non-traditional’ by some are actually significantly lower than marriages between a woman and a man.
In the LGBT Adoption Statistics section of their website, Lifelong Adoptions states: “In most states, whether gay adoption is legal is made on a case-by-case basis by a judge. However, there are 16 states that definitely allow joint gay adoptions (when a same-sex couple jointly petition for adoption): Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.”
The laws are changing, and if progress continues on the same track it won’t be long before there are very few or no limitations at all regarding same-sex foster parenting and adoption.
6. Abusive Cycles Will Always Run Full Circle
As humans, we strive to live functional, rewarding, and healthy lives. We learn from mistakes and from the ideals instilled in us by our parents or parental figures. This leads many to assume that people typically end up behaving similarly to the way they were raised. When it comes to foster kids, there is a misconception that since abusive or unhealthy behaviors may have once surrounded them, they will continue to be ingrained in their tendencies and behaviors for life.
The fact is that foster parents make a difference for these children. Turnaround is common, and it allows for mentoring and creates an environment that foster kids aren’t necessarily accustomed to. This results in children who are happy to feel a sense of security and are able to focus on betterment and moving forward.
So the next time you hear a shaming phrase related toward the foster care system or any related stigmas, politely nudge that person toward the truth. Let them know that these stigmas are unfair to the children who bear them, because they are in foster care by no fault of their own. They do not deserve to be looked down upon.
“Parenthood requires love, not DNA.”