Let's Flip the Script on Troubled Families

When it comes to foster care, we’ve all heard a familiar story: Biological parents are the villains and it is our job, as a community, to swoop in to save kids from troubled circumstances. But this stereotype does an injustice to the reality of most families in the system — and it’s past time to flip the script.

June is National Reunification Month, a fitting occasion to reshape the narrative about families in crisis. As the lead agency overseeing child welfare in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, Embrace Families serves more than 2,600 vulnerable children and their families each day.

For many of those families, foster care is a temporary detour in their journey, not the destination. Rather than the egregious abuse cases that make headlines and trigger immediate steps to terminate parental rights, many families are coping with substance abuse, mental illness or financial challenges, often tied to intergenerational cycles. These parents love their children, but they need support and resources to care for them.

Instead of stigmatizing their challenges, child welfare professionals — and the broader community — must provide the support that struggling parents need to overcome them. And whenever possible, we should work to help families stay together.

Studies show that having a stable family lays a critical foundation for a child’s healthy growth and development well into adulthood. Children who know where they’re going to fall asleep each night — and feel confident in their parents’ care for them — have better odds of thriving physically, emotionally and academically. On the other hand, unstable families can cause lifelong trauma. As much as 30 percent of mental health disorders stem from childhood adversity, according to epidemiological data.

Our local, state and federal governments recognize this reality and promote reunification as the optimal path whenever possible. They evaluate our agency on how well we help children maintain connections with their biological families, including placing them with relatives when possible. As an important part of the professional team, our foster parents are encouraged to involve the children’s parents in co-parenting decisions. And along the way, we strive to support parents through therapy, coaching and other practical resources that help them create long-term change.

Currently, about 65% of families whose children enter foster care achieve reunification. More than 3,000 children in Florida have been safely reunited with their families in the past six months alone. Every day, moms and dads in our community are overcoming obstacles to providing a safe and loving home for their children. It’s time we give them the credit — and support — they deserve.

Written by Diane Greene, Director of Quality and Training for Embrace Families