Opinion

These 3 Simple Things Would Improve Foster Care

REUTERS/Yves Herman

My wife and I took in our first foster child on August 10, 2016. It was almost two years after we first stepped through the doors of a foster care orientation class.

Two years of classes and training and interviews and paperwork and home studies later, and we were finally able to foster. Our first foster child was a five-pound, ten-day-old baby boy. We loved him immediately.

He left us to be reunited with his birth aunt two months later. It was one of the worst days and one of the roughest weeks of my life. I still can’t talk about it without tearing up.

Two months after that, we took in our second foster child. It was a ten-day-old, four-and-a-half pound little girl. We loved her immediately.

All told it has been three-and-a-half years since my wife and I decided to become a foster family. When we began the process, we had no idea what to expect. Now, two foster children and almost four years later, we pretty much know what to expect. We’ve learned the ins and outs of the foster care system pretty well.

So now I want to change it.

Our foster care system was created with a great idea in mind: to help protect children. But unfortunately, much of the process has become outdated. We know far more about mental health and childhood development than we did when most of the foster care laws were written. I think it’s time we step back and reevaluate some of our policies and procedures in a new light. Here are the three things I would start with:

No. 1: More (positive) information

One of the things I would change about the foster care system is the lack of information most people have when it comes to foster children.

My wife and I had no idea what to expect when we started our foster journey. And, honestly, most of what we knew about the system wasn’t good. I live in Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry, and I have to admit that my industry is partially to blame.

On television, foster children are most often shown as bad kids who burn down the house or kill their parents. In movies, foster parents are mostly portrayed as child abusers who only take in children for the money they get from the state.

In the news media, you only hear the stories of the foster parent/foster child relationships that go wrong. You don’t hear about the many wonderful foster parents or the great adoption stories or reunification stories.

The truth is that most foster children are amazing kids who just want to be loved.

Most foster families are good, loving families who are trying to make a positive difference in the lives of their foster children. We need to do a better job of portraying this. As an actor and author, I plan on doing my part to tell the positive stories of foster care. As a foster parent, I plan on doing my part to be a positive story.

No. 2: The time it takes for a child to have a permanent home

Children are time-sensitive. Their developmental years pass quickly and the window of opportunity for natural trust closes rapidly.

In the U.S., we have over 400,000 children in foster care. Unfortunately, many of these children will never be reunited with family members. Even worse, many of these children grow old in the foster care system while getting bounced from home to home.

This is partially the fault of the slow-moving foster care and family court system. We have slowed down the process so much that adopting a child from the foster care system takes years to do. Those are years a developing child needs to spend attaching to a loving family, not getting held in a state of limbo while judges and workers delay the process.

We now know that the best thing to help a child overcome many potential developmental problems is early attachment to a stable environment.

I believe we need to streamline the process so children can have that stable environment as quickly as possible. We have made the process so convoluted that children often have to wait for years to have a forever family.

It is a worst-case scenario for a child to be taken from his or her parents, but sometimes that truly is in the best interest of the child. In the extreme cases where it is necessary for a child to be taken from their home and placed in foster care, we have to do a better job of making that child our first priority, even at the expense of all other people in the situation.

No. 3: The excuse most people have for not fostering

One thing I have learned from discussing foster care with people is that there is one primary excuse people make for not fostering: they don’t believe they could handle raising and caring for a child, only for that child to eventually be reunited with his or her birth family.

I’m going to be honest with you. This is valid. It hurts worse than almost anything you will experience in your life. But the reasons to foster far outweigh the fear and pain of loss. The joy you gain far outweighs the pain. The strength you get far outweighs the fear. Trust me, I know.

Ask me if I would take back the two months I had with my foster son. Not for a million dollars. Ask me if I would still choose to bring him into my house for two months even if I knew the pain it would cause me. Yes, I absolutely would. Ten times out of ten.

Now, ask me what I would change about my current foster daughter. Not a thing. My foster daughter is sixteen months old and we hope to adopt her before she turns two. She is absolutely the greatest thing that has ever happened to our family.

There are many things I would change about the foster care system but there is one thing I would not: the children. Even with its faults, the foster care system still offers a very real opportunity for ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of children.

John Prather is a Hollywood actor, model, and author of the critically-acclaimed novel, “The Nephilim Virus.” John and his wife recently celebrated the birth of twins, and hope to adopt their foster daughter very soon. For more information, visit his website.