After I joined my local CASA program, I noticed that there are many misconceptions about kids in foster care. For those of you who don’t know, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) train and support community volunteers, like you and me, to speak up for kids and teens who have been abused and/or neglected. When children are taken from their homes because of abuse and neglect, they enter foster care, at no fault of their own. You can learn more about our CASA program, volunteers and the children we serve by visiting our about me page here.
Find your local CASA program here. As for the many misconceptions that I read and hear about, I wanted to share and discuss what are myths and what are facts.
MYTH: I have to wait until I retire to become a CASA volunteer.
FACT: 76% of CASA volunteers are employed full-time. Volunteers are asked to commit until the case has been closed—a minimum of one year. The CASA volunteer is often the only consistent adult in the child’s life who stays involved in the case from beginning to end, providing stability and continuity that is desperately needed.
MYTH: Children in foster care are juvenile delinquents.
FACT: Nothing could be further from the truth. Children enter the foster care system through no fault of their own and as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment. More than half of the children waiting in foster care for adoptive homes are age 7 or older, and nearly 30% are age 12 or older. Unfortunately, each year about 20% of the children waiting to be adopted turn 18 and leave the system without a family. These new adults are at risk of falling into poverty, homelessness or even the criminal justice system without the supports needed to thrive.
MYTH: CASA is a national organization, but I want my donations to stay local.
FACT: All donations to CASA of CGS stay right here in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem county helping local children.
MYTH: I don’t have experience working with children so I can’t be a CASA volunteer.
FACT: CASA volunteers are men and women from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. No special experience or background is required, only the desire to help our county’s children.
MYTH: There must not be any abused, neglected or abandoned children in our county since the media doesn’t report them.
FACT: Over 1,200 abused, neglected and/or abandoned children have been entered into the Children in Court system in our 3 counties. The privacy of these children are protected by the courts. Newspapers or other media outlets are not given information about ongoing cases.
MYTH: CASA volunteers are like social workers.
FACT: Social workers are employed by government agencies and work on as many as 30 cases at a time involving the whole family. Most families include more than one child.
The CASA volunteer focuses on one child. CASA volunteers do not replace a social worker; they are an independent appointee of the court. The CASA volunteer thoroughly examines a child’s case, and identifies various community resources that are available and makes recommendations to the court.
MYTH: Child sexual abuse isn’t common.
FACT: Child sexual abuse impacts more Americans annually than cancer, AIDS, gun violence, LGBT inequality and the mortgage crisis combined.
MYTH: People abused as children become abusers.
FACT: This is only partly true. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 30% of adults who were abused and neglected as children will later abuse their own children. However, this “cycle of abuse” is not inevitable. While past abuse is one indicator for future abuse, it is not the only one. Some research indicates that if a child is able to disclose an incident of abuse early on and is supported by people who believe the claim is real, the child is less likely to become an adult perpetrator of abuse.
MYTH: You can always spot a child molester.
FACT: You cannot assume someone is a child abuser just by looking at him or her. In fact, he is probably not that creepy guy down the street. More likely, abuse will be inflicted by a parent, a relative, or a child’s caregiver. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 86% of child abusers are parents or other relatives; nearly 54% are women, and 36% are between the ages of 20 and 29.
MYTH: Children are resilient and bounce back from anything.
FACT: Children are resilient, but abuse and neglect have lasting and sometimes unidentified consequences. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who have had to be removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of veterans of the first Gulf War.
MYTH: It’s only abuse if it’s physical.
FACT: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 78% of child abuse reports were due to neglect. As defined by the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be a) failure to provide physical necessities of food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision, b) failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment, c) failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs, or d) inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs.
MYTH: Children are usually abused by strangers.
FACT: Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know and trust rather than by a stranger. Many children are unable to tell they are being abused when someone familiar is the perpetrator. Disclosing what has happened (or is happening) to them also has a greater personal impact when it involves someone the child knows.
MYTH: My child would speak up if he or she were being abused.
FACT: Parents should teach their children about dangerous situations and what to do in the event of one. But despite best efforts, there are a variety of reasons why children do not speak up, including having feelings of shame and fear. Not only should children be taught how to recognize if they are being abused and what to do about it, but they should also be made to feel safe and secure when reporting abuse.
Myth: I could never be a foster parent because I’m not married and don’t make a lot of money. I don’t even own my own home.
Fact: There are no such requirements. You can be married or single, a homeowner or a renter. The only financial requirement is that you have enough of an income to support yourself and your family aside from the money you are reimbursed to care for a child living in foster care.
Myth: Foster parents have to stay at home with the children and I work full-time, I guess that excludes me.
Fact: No, it doesn’t. Many foster parents work outside of the home and you can discuss with a licensing agency what options may be available to assist with childcare costs.
Myth: My children are grown and out of the house. I’m too old to be a foster parent.
Fact: There is no age requirement (other than you must be at least 21). Many “empty nesters” find foster parenting to be a rewarding experience.
Myth: I don’t have any children and to be a foster parent you need to have parenting experience.
Fact: Not true! Many foster parents are childless. They are, however, responsible people who have made a commitment to children and demonstrate an ability to parent or a desire to learn parenting skills.
Myth: Foster children have been abused so much that they’re beyond repair. I wouldn’t really be making a difference anyway.
Fact: Children are amazingly resilient. Foster parents can make the difference by providing a structured, nurturing environment. We need to remember that these children will grow up to be adults in our society. How we respond to their needs now will largely determine what kind of citizens they will be in the future.
Myth: Once I take in a foster child, I’m on my own without any help.
Fact: Children need stability and agency staff offer foster parents plenty of support to maintain an even keel. For starters, before you even take in your first child, the agency staff works with you to develop a profile of the type of child best suited to the experience and capabilities of your family. There is respite care for those times you need a break.
Myth: I would have to provide medical insurance for a foster child in my home.
Fact: Foster parents do not pay any of a child’s medical expenses, other than over-the-counter medicines and supplies. Each child in foster care is covered by the governing jurisdiction for their medical, dental, and mental health care needs.
Myth: All foster children are emotionally disturbed and damaged beyond repair. There’s nothing I can do to help them.
Fact: Miracles happen all the time with foster children and that’s because of the relationship they develop in the foster and adoptive homes they’re placed in.
Myth: You have to be wealthy to be a foster parent and you need to own a home.
Fact: Foster parents must be financially stable, but they do not have to be wealthy at all! Home ownership is not a requirement, although there are rules about how many children you can foster based on the number of bedrooms in your residence.
Myth: You have to be married to be a foster parent.
Fact: Single people can be foster parents too.
Myth: Someone has to be at home with the kids during the day so people with full-time jobs can’t foster.
Fact: People work full-time when they have biological children and it’s no different with foster children. Your licensing agency can advise you on childcare options.
Myth: You don’t have any choice of the types of children who get placed in your home, whether they are perfectly healthy or have a disability.
Fact: You do have control over which children are placed in your home. However, the broader your parameters are the more quickly you will receive a placement.
Myth: I can’t be a foster parent because I would get too attached. It would be too hard to see them leave.
Fact: It’s true — you will get attached, and it will be painful when children you love leave. But these children have suffered through things no child should ever face and they need the love and care foster parents provide when they open their hearts and homes. “When God calls you to do His work, He’s going to make sure you’re equipped to do it,”
FINAL THOUGHT: Most people think, “somebody else will probably report it.” Recurring child abuse and neglect is preventable, but someone must take that first step to end it. This year in the United States, more than 1,500 children will die as a result of abuse or neglect, and nearly 1,250 of those children will be under the age of four. Now imagine how different these children’s lives might have been if a neighbor or relative had the courage to make one simple phone call?
Every state has enacted laws detailing who must report child abuse, and 48 states have laws that list mandatory reporters of child abuse, by profession. Some of those professions include: social workers, teachers, physicians, mental health professionals, and law enforcement agents. Additionally, 18 states mandate that any adult who suspects child abuse must report it to the proper authorities.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected in New Jersey call 1-800 NJ Abuse or nationally 1-800-4-A-CHILD