There has been a startling decline in the opening of new foster homes in Ontario. It has begun to cause a crisis in Ontario foster care. Children are being placed in homes that are not appropriate simply because there is space available.
Moving children from home to home causes repeated trauma. These moves are often because of behavioural issues related to PTSD. The trauma only gets worse with each move to another home. When we have more placement options in foster care we can choose better homes.
The foster care system in Ontario is buckling under the demand for new homes. If we are making placement decisions based only on which home has space then we ignore all the other factors which make a placement successful. A child coming into foster care will usually come with some behaviours related to their home environment. This makes sense as children learn many of their behaviours from their parents.
So why are there so few people wanting to become foster parents in Ontario? Let’s take a look at some of the main reasons.
Negative News Articles
There have been a number of negative news articles related to the foster care system. These articles address some real systemic issues such as racial bias, misunderstanding of parenting customs of other cultures and inadequate support for low-income families. However, while theses criticisms are fair, they paint the whole system as problematic. Children who are psychologically and/or physically harmed need safe spaces. The problems with foster care should be addressed while expressing the urgent need for quality foster homes.
Rising Cost of Living
Most foster care organizations have been trying to address the rising cost of living. This increasing cost burden is especially true in the Greater Toronto Area. Per diems, the amount paid to foster parents per day for each child, have gone up for most homes. The problem is that if you buy a home with space for foster children it will likely cost a small fortune. Add in the fact that there is a strong preference for one stay-at-home foster parent and this makes it financially unfeasible for most families to get into fostering.
Increasing Need for Mental Health in Foster Care
The mental health crisis has hit all children across Ontario. Foster children are no exception and are more at-risk due to environmental factors in the home. Children in care have always had a harder time fitting into societal norms, excelling in education and compliance with the law. In the United States, almost 50% of children aging out of the foster care system end up homeless. Poor mental health leads to erratic behaviours which are difficult to manage in a family environment. As children are moved from home to home, their mental health suffers further until it is near impossible to make any significant changes in their lives.
Trying to recruit foster homes is difficult when you explain the challenges they will face regarding mental health and behaviours. Most families are unprepared or unwilling to cope with children at the high end of the needs spectrum.