True foster care

Hillsides benefits from an extraordinarily generous community that supports our many initiatives to better serve those for whom we care. Recently, I was touring a group of representatives from a foundation that we had solicited. In the course of the visit, we ran into one of our residents. As I greeted him, he asks who these visitors were and took the initiative to introduce himself to them. I am always careful to conduct these tours in a way that protects the privacy and anonymity of our residents; however, this kind of unsolicited encounter is always great. Inevitably it is an opportunity to explain to guests the kinds of children we serve, their needs, and the services we offer. More importantly, the freedom of a child to approach any guest and introduce themselves is an indicator of how comfortable they are and how they perceive the organization as their own.

Contrast this to the recent article in the Los Angeles Times. The exposé of a small group home facility portrayed foster care services negatively.  Clearly, some organizations fail to meet the standards required to become a quality provider of foster care services. The existence of such an organization is inexcusable. Given the scrutiny from numerous regulatory agencies we experience routinely, I am amazed that such an organization is able to operate. Certainly this is unacceptable and warrants further investigation.

However, the problem with the article is that it does not distinguish the various kinds of providers in the foster care system. As a result, the foster care provider community is portrayed as “the child mill” rather than as the true resource it is for families and communities that are desperate to address the needs of vulnerable children and youth, who have experience trauma. This is an injustice to many agencieswithin the foster care system, both large and small, that provide good, quality care and more often than not at considerable financial risk.

These kinds of exposés are one way that the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets serve as a watchdog to safeguard the public interest. A provocative headline on the front page of the newspaper may increase sales. My hope is one day the focus would be not on the abuse of the public trust, but on countless organizations and individuals who make the sacrifices to serve foster care youth with no gain other than the satisfaction that they have made a difference in the life of a fragile and vulnerable child. That kind of selflessness is worthy of the front page of any newspaper.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month. In spite of the negative image reinforced by sensational articles in the media, fostering children, who are for whatever reason separated from their families, is an extraordinary public service that deserves our respect, admiration, and gratitude.

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