Myths and Facts About Foster Care in Florida Family Law
Do children in foster care live in luxurious mansions where they ride ponies in the backyard of their foster parents’ house or lounge atop an inflatable alligator raft in the swimming pool? Do they live in group homes where the person with whom they share a room is close in age and their relationship is more like that of college roommates than of stepsiblings? Do foster parents adopt their foster children? Do foster children ever go back to their birth parents? Do kids stay in foster care permanently? The answer to all of these questions is “sometimes.” The experience of foster families is very diverse. If you are thinking of fostering a child, an important first step would be to talk to other foster families. If you do not personally know any families that have fostered children, contact a foster family agency or join a social media group for foster families. The next step is to discuss your questions about the legal aspects of foster parenthood with an Orlando family lawyer.
MYTH: Foster Care Requires the Child to Move into a Stranger’s House.
FACT: When children are removed from the parents’ house because of abuse or neglect, the court awards temporary custody of the children to another adult, often another relative of the child. According to data from the Department of Children and Families, there were more children in foster care living with relatives (13,449 children) as of early 2019 than there were children living in licensed foster care placements (10,227).
MYTH: Foster Care Is Permanent.
MYTH: Foster Care Is Temporary.
FACT: It depends on the situation. Although it is not hard to find long-form news stories about children who get bounced around from one foster family to another, these cases do not represent the majority of children in foster care. According to the Department of Children and Families, 39.6 percent of the children who entered foster care in 2017 achieved permanency within one year of placement. Achieving permanency means that the children returned to their birth families, were adopted, or were living long-term with a guardian. 923 were adopted from foster care in 2018. As of the beginning of this year, only 740 children in the foster care system were seeking to be adopted.
MYTH: Fostering Children Is a Lucrative Source of Income.
FACT: Being a foster parent is not a business or a side gig. Once again, financial abuse by foster parents makes for a juicy tabloid story, but it is not the norm by any means. Foster parents do receive a stipend for each child in their care, but it is only enough to cover the children’s expenses. It is more like receiving child support payments.
MYTH: All Foster Parents Are Religious.
FACT: While some foster agencies are connected to religious organizations, some are non-sectarian. Also, keep in mind that not all foster children are placed through agencies. Many children in foster care are in the custody of blood relatives that they have known for their entire lives.
MYTH: Birth Parents and Foster Parents Battle in Court Over Custody of the Children.
FACT: Only a minority of foster parents are seeking to adopt children. Most foster parents choose to foster children with the understanding that the placement will be temporary and that the children will eventually be returned to their birth parents or placed with an adoptive family. When the birth parents seek to be reunited with the children, then the birth parents and the foster parents can work together toward that goal. If the foster parents are willing, the children’s birth parents or other genetic relatives can visit the children in the foster home. Sometimes the children and birth parents even stay in contact with the foster family after the children go back to their birth parents’ custody. It is rare that a family will decide to adopt a child that they are fostering and then later find out that the birth parents do not want the child to be adopted.
MYTH: Only Married Couples Who Are 30-40 Years Older Than the Children Can Be Foster Parents.
FACT: Almost any adult can become a foster child if he or she can pass a background check demonstrating that the foster children will be safe with him or her. The minimum age to become a foster parent is 21 years old, but there is no upper age limit. Some people foster their own younger siblings, while others foster their own grandchildren.
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There is a lot more to child custody cases than just two divorced parents arguing over who gets to spend time with the children and when. Contact Orlando family law and divorce attorney Sean Smallwood for a consultation.
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Sean Smallwood is an Orlando divorce attorney for the law firm Sean Smallwood, Orlando Divorce & Family Law P.A. where he represents clients in all areas of family law and divorce. 100% of the practice is devoted to family law. As an attorney in Orlando, he has helped many families with a wide variety of family law cases including Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, and many other issues.