So seriously…what IS the best interest of a child in care?
True confession time (and this is kind of an ugly side of me, but it is also not uncommon for foster parents to think this way when they first start out). When I began this journey, I thought I knew what would be the best interest of a child. I figured I was OBVIOUSLY the better choice for multiple reasons…I have a stable living situation, I have good parenting skills, I have more support, I might have more money and can offer more opportunities, and I don’t struggle with addiction or homeless or domestic violence.
All those reasons right there mean I should CLEARLY be the better choice…but that’s not really what we are talking about…we are discussing best interest of the child.
And all those reasons I just listed do not automatically make me and my family the best interest of a child.
Let me explain by asking you this: do you have biological children? And have you ever thought that there are other parents out there who have a better living situation, parenting skills, more support, more money, can offer more opportunities and also don’t struggle with addiction or homeless or domestic violence? And if so…wouldn’t THEY be the better choice for your child? Does that mean your child should automatically be removed from you?
My point is this: those things don’t necessarily make someone out to be in the best interest of a child. They might be good things, but it doesn’t mean that it’s best overall.
Which brings us back to something we’ve touched on previously and that is why we should, as foster parents, promote reunification with birth family as much as we possibly can.
Clearly it doesn’t mean at all costs or that we should ever not share something we know would be detrimental or harmful to a child; if a parent has messed up or made a poor decision, it’s not our job as foster parents to decide what happens…that should be the decision of the court. If asked (which doesn’t always happen), we share what we know with the court and let the judge take things from there.
However, we can be there to encourage the birth family on their goals reached and progress made; sometimes the difference between success and failure for them is having someone in their corner, cheering them on.
Now we probably all know that removal from a home is traumatic for a child. And we (probably) also all know that adoption is lifelong process of walking through and processing trauma. (I know those two things don’t seem related, but stick with me and I promise you I’ll get to my point!)
So what this means is that removal from a foster home, back to birth home, is also traumatic. But, if the birth family is properly supported (by us, hopefully), they are more likely to keep their children in home and not have them removed again. So that means that even though the removal from foster to birth home is traumatic, it is a one-time trauma, which is ultimately better…because with adoption a child could potentially relive the trauma at every major (or even minor) milestone in his life.
Now please do not hear what I am not saying: I am not saying that adoption is bad…Sometimes reunification should not happen because it’s not in best interest of child. But that also should not be defined by what we can offer (often monetarily), but instead the lifetime of overall benefit for child to be with birth family is what needs to be considered.
My point in all this is that is that if we can support reunification (both prior to and following the reunification) that might just be what is in the best interest of a child. It’s not about money or opportunities or a bigger house or better school or any of that…it’s about being in the family you were born into, when it’s safe and appropriate to be there. It’s about the cultural and religious mirrors a child receives with birth family which they may or may not have with foster/adoptive family.
It’s not as simple as “I am the better option.” It’s what is the BEST when you step back and take in the entire picture.