Kathryn Jean Lopez: Whenever the topic of foster parenting comes up, one tends to hear responses like, “It takes a special kind of person” and “Too many people abuse the system.” Is “Honor Your (Foster) Mothers and Fathers” more than a policy paper? Perhaps a plea to nurture a culture that is more conducive to helping children in foster care to get the loving care that they need?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: It is not uncommon to hear people refer to foster parents as “saints.” And why not? These are people who take total strangers, often with clear emotional and behavioral problems, into their homes and treat them as if they were family. But in truth there are tens of thousands of Americans who do foster care every year.
Why are there not more? One reason is certainly the culture. We live in a culture where everyone is trying to raise the perfect child. We live in a culture where everyone is responsible for their own nuclear family. The kind of support network that’s necessary to care for a child with greater needs is often not there.
Despite all that, I think more people would do foster care if our government agencies didn’t treat them so badly. What is it like to do foster care? The people I interview say it has brought them the greatest joy and the deepest sadness. It’s also like spending seven hours a week at the DMV. Between child-welfare workers and family court, foster parents report that they are treated like glorified babysitters. And frankly, most people treat their babysitters better.