Dads: Foster Kids NEED You
By Derek Williams
If you are taking the time to read this article, the odds are you are already a dad. Maybe you’re new or maybe you’ve been a dad longer in life than not, but either way, you proudly claim the title and your heart melts a little each time one of your kids say ‘Daddy.’ (Unless of course the game is on…) You find yourself looking around like your head is on a swivel in groups to make sure your kids are ok. You gag while changing diapers, but power through. And you’ve been accused more than once of being the ‘overgrown kid’ in your family.
And you’re the perfect candidate to change the lives of kids in foster care.
Now to be fair, I am biased. I am a foster/adoptive dad. We are actually still licensed and it’s a struggle to stop the wife from bringing every baby home with her—a task further complicated by her title as a pediatrician. So far we have only two kids and their story is how I know kids in foster care need you. I’m gonna break it down in a way guys understand…a Top 10 List. I’ll give ya the statistics, but I can also make it real for you through our personal experiences and those of foster parents I work with every day.
THE TOP 10 REASONS DADS MAKE THE BEST FOSTER PARENTS
10. The numbers game. Statistically speaking, the odds are that no matter where you live, there is a shortage of foster parents. The latest numbers available are from 2014 and they show 415,129 children were in foster care on September 30th, 2014, a 4% increase from 2012. I’m not much of a betting man, but I feel safe saying I’d lay money the number has gone up. If you’re not a math guy that means 1 in every 184 kids nationwide is in foster care. Look at your kid’s school and how many kids attend. You can safely bet there are at least a few foster kids you know…and you may not even know it.
9. Trauma sucks. The brain research on childhood trauma, which all kids in foster care have experienced to some degree, shows these kids experience much the same trauma as soldiers returning from war with PTSD. Everyone respects our troops and rightfully so, but in kids, this trauma manifests differently. It’s difficult to explain in a few words, so let me ask you to envision this scenario: you are traveling in a foreign country when suddenly the local authorities come and say something to your family you don’t really understand and then take you to another part of the country by yourself with strangers. You don’t know if these people are nice or mean, but they are HUGE. They have weird customs and no one can…or will…tell you what’s going on. You’re frustrated, but how can you show it? You probably either shut down or lash out—kicking, screaming, attacking—anything to get someone to understand how scared you are. Now imagine you’re 3. These kids are often difficult to handle, but it’s not because they are bad kids… it’s because they are traumatized. Experienced parents have a much easier time dealing with these hard behaviors than rookies.
8. You have kids. Want your kid to learn empathy? Bring a child into your home who has never had much of anything to call their own. You child will be able to see the world with entirely new eyes. Why? Because as a parent you likely already know to your own kids, you’re an idiot. You know nothing. But another kid? They are so wise! They know EVERYTHING. And your child will naturally show his or her character in supporting a peer. You’ll be amazed to see how compassionate your offspring is when presented with another child who is struggling. You might feel more pride in your biological child than you ever thought possible.
7. No diapers. Now, this won’t ALWAYS be true because of course children come into care at all ages. But the statistics show the average age of kids in care is 8. Stop and think back to when you were 8. Those were some of the best years in my memory…football with the neighborhood kids, the ice cream man, catching lightning bugs, ‘Stand By Me’-ish adventures, and the list goes on and on. Many of the kids in care are well past the days of diapers. They need someone who will roll in the grass, play video games, and serve as a human-horse. They need a dad!
6. Because you are a dad. Like that transition? Well, it’s true. Kids need dads. Want proof? (I knew you would….) Here are several pieces of evidence gathered by ‘The Fatherless Generation.’
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
- 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Center for Disease Control)
- 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average. (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
How many kids in foster care come from fatherless homes? It’s hard to find stats, but in my experience, most of them, or at least they don’t know their father. It’s not uncommon for social workers to try DNA tests on ten or more men when attempting to find a child’s father. Kids need dads. And as it turns out, you’re qualified!
5. You’ll change a child’s world. You know that cheesy starfish poem about the guy throwing the starfish back in and people thinking him insane since he can’t save them all? Remember his response? He decided he made a difference for each individual one he did throw back, and that was good enough for him. Whether you are only in a child’s life for a short time or become their forever family, you will plant seeds that will change a child’s life forever. And who knows, you might just…
4. Change the world. According to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY 2014 data, nearly 24,000 kids age out of foster care each year. In layman’s terms, that means kids turn 18 with neither reunification with their biological family nor being adopted. They literally go out into the world all alone. At 18! A system meant to make their lives better has failed these kids. Less than half are employed at age 24, which becomes a burden on your life through taxes. One in five is homeless, which becomes a burden on the system. And 71% of the young women will be pregnant by 21, which often restarts the cycle. By stepping in and helping just one child, you quite literally are changing the world.
3. Kids need consistency. On average, kids are in foster care 20 months. And most wait nearly three years before they are adopted. It’s a terrifying life when you don’t know not only, where your next meal is coming from, but also whom you will live with next. These kids, like all kids, deserve to be kids. That means worry-free. That can never happen without strong, loving families…like yours.
2. With great power comes great responsibility. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you are in a similar situation to us. You and/or your spouse are probably college educated—likely with an advanced degree—and your work is stable. Better yet, one of you may stay home with the kids. It certainly doesn’t take money to be a quality foster parent, but we all know kids are expensive. And these kids deserve to have the same childhood we all want for our kids—family vacations, family pictures, family holidays…notice a theme here? Family. It isn’t about having money, but a little disposable income goes a long way in child rearing.
1. The system is broken. I don’t mean that as an insult or dig at anyone, but it’s a fact. And if you’re talking to anyone in the system and they are being honest they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s a system of broken people from broken places fielded by people who are overworked and underpaid. My kids would have been moved at 2 weeks if a worker had her way because we were 50 miles from their birth home and it was (IN HER WORDS) ‘inconvenient having the kids so far away.’ I learned that day almost 7 years ago these kids don’t have a voice and their entire lives become a burden to some who want things to be ‘more convenient.’ If I hadn’t fought, my kids would have been lost in the system and likely separated as my son was 7 and my daughter was only 7 months. I can’t fathom that for my kids. Are there kids out there you’re ok with this becoming their fate? These kids need someone who will stand up and be their voice in a system that gives them none.
And who better to stand up for a child than a dad?
If you are a part of the private DMD group, there is a great sub-group, DMD Ohana, specifically created to support Dads Married to Doctors who are considering or going through the foster or adoption process.