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My Turn, Nadean Quarterman: Foster care gives children wings, roots

“Wings to show you what you can become, and roots to remind you where you are from.”

By Nadean Quarterman

In 2018, a congressional resolution declared May as National Foster Care Month and designated the last day of the month as National Foster Parent Appreciation Day.

Foster care and children’s rights as a whole are fairly new concepts. Throughout most of human history, children were thought of primarily as property.

Two hundred years ago, we did not have any legislative framework to underpin an idea like foster care. Today, we spend more than $5.3 billion on foster care and related services across the country. We know more about the impact of early trauma, the importance of secure families and interventions that really work than we ever have before.

We have laws that protect children, public programs to help heal broken families, and evidence-based tools to help children, support foster families, and encourage birth families to get their lives on track.

However, we have a serious and troubling national shortage of available foster homes, and as a community we need to come together to solve it.

The Rowan County Department of Social Services would like to impress upon you that it really does matter if we have enough homes for all the children who need them. We need foster homes as diverse as the children in care. If we do not have them, or if we do not have enough of them, we cannot place children in culturally appropriate settings that will maximize their chance of success.

This is especially true for Latino and black children, who across the country are in care at a disproportionate rate while most families available to serve them are white. There is nothing inherently wrong with a transracial foster family, but for some children the trauma of being removed from their home is made easier by staying within the cultural context with which they are familiar.

Increasingly, sibling groups are among the most difficult cases to find appropriate foster homes for. Yet in most cases, we know that keeping siblings together — preserving the bond between brothers and sisters — supports a child’s long-term success.

When it is safe and possible, reunification with their birth families is the best option for children. A big factor in whether reunification is successful is the proximity of a child’s placement in relation to their home.

If we do not have enough foster homes, we also know that children are more likely to be placed in homes outside the communities they are familiar with. For children who have already lost so much, to lose the familiarity of their hometown is a much crueler blow. It is not just their family they have been taken away from; it is all the other elements that anchor them and make them feel secure — their schools, teachers, friends, neighbors and church families.

The Rowan County Department of Social Services foster care theme this year is “Wings to show you what you can become, and roots to remind you where you are from.” Roots, to a child, come from everyday experiences — eating dinner together, after-school sports, going to church on Sunday, help with homework, or getting a driver’s license.

Roots come from just being there to anchor and ground a child; in fact, the very word “foster” means “to encourage the growth of.” So we want to nurture those roots, provide the stability and foundation of a family, and help a child grow.

As we do this important work — work that might look just like we are living our everyday, ordinary lives — we give these children wings. We show them what a healthy family looks like. We model behaviors and relationships that they can learn from. We encourage them to reach for their dreams, to fly. It is an incredible gift.

We know that not everyone can be a foster parent. But everyone has a role to play in supporting foster families — in supporting our kids and our community. We believe wholeheartedly that there are no unwanted children, just unfound families.

We thought it best that the sentiments of Foster Parent Appreciation Month be shared from a child who was in foster care. Below are some of his words.

“Thank you, dear God, thank you. Thanks goes out to each and every foster parent for taking a chance on a child and their family and providing a safe and loving home. So not only would I like to say a big thank you to God but a big thank you to my foster family for bringing me to their home to give me a second chance. Thank you for being the place that I can call home and say that you are good with no pressure or guilt in me. … So thank God for a place to call home.”

Nadean Quarterman is the adoptions and foster home licensing supervisor at the Rowan County Department of Social Services. Contact her at 704-216-8462 or nadean.quarterman@rowancountync.gov.

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