Each day on Facebook, Humans of Foster Care shares stories of families affected by the foster care system.
“The first story was from a friend of mine who was also a foster parent,” said its creator, Dana Suggs. “I ran it, and I thought if I had 100 likes on the page in a week, I’d be happy. I had 100 likes within 30 minutes!”
Now the page is less than two years old and has more than 47,000 followers. Suggs estimates that she has shared about 500 stories since starting the page.
Suggs, a photographer and a foster mother, spoke with us about her work running Humans of Foster Care and about the importance of sharing first-person perspectives of care.
The interview, which has been edited and condensed, is below.
What is Humans of Foster Care, and what drove you to start the page?
Having been a foster parent on two separate occasions (soon to be a third), and doing everything from emergency placement, group homes, to kinship care, teenagers to infants, I know that unless you are involved in some kind of aspect in the foster care system, you won’t know much about it. Most people really do not have any idea what is going on within that system. Humans of Foster Care was my way of hopefully changing that fact.
I believe that it’s harder for people to ignore something once they see it.
I also know that foster parents have an ugly reputation because of bad foster homes. One goal in starting the page was to bring awareness that not all foster parents and homes are bad. There are some amazing foster parents doing extraordinary therapies and foster parenting out there. I know and have worked to help close down bad ones that I’ve known about in our area, so I understand there are terrible foster parents as well. I am hoping that through the page, and through raising awareness for the need for good foster homes, we can get the bad ones closed and only utilize the great ones. But right now, our case workers are working with very tied hands. We simply do not have enough homes!
How do you find families to highlight?
I have a large foster care group that I work with, and there is a lot of word of mouth, and I get a large amount of submissions sent to the page itself, which I love. In the beginning, I wanted it to be about the stories I personally took and the beautiful photos I was able to take and highlight. However, I quickly saw the error in my thinking: again, it has nothing to do with me. Once, I opened the page up to submissions, they started coming from all over the world. I’ve ran stories from China, Australia and Canada!
Why do you think it’s important to highlight the voices of families?
Fostering is hard, being a child in the foster care system is hard, being a parent who has lost their children is hard, and being a worker who is trying to juggle all of it is hard. Most people, unless they are experiencing one of these situations, won’t know or understand. Humans of Foster Care brings the realness of it to people who may not otherwise know.
Most of the stories you share are from Foster parents. Do you also seek out other voices from the foster care community?
Most of the stories I get are from foster parents. They are easier from a legal standpoint. I have done quite a few foster children and former foster children, too.
I’ve interviewed several case workers, however, they were sadly (very sadly) not well-received. I hated that aspect of this “job.” It’s important for us to hear from them.
The ones I’m most desperate to get are from the birth parents themselves, and sadly, they may not be well-received either. However, I’m not one to run from a challenge.
In my experience, we seem to have forgotten the parents in the equation of foster care. Yes, in most cases, it is due to some issue with the parents that has caused the child to be placed in the system to begin with; however, we must not lose our humanity or our empathy. We are still dealing with humans in their most vulnerable, most needful moment. I believe when at all possible, we should help the parents keep their children. If it’s addiction, help them into recovery. If it’s financial instability, help them get back onto their feet and give the tools to stay. If our community leaders and faith-based groups would get involved in all aspects of this problem, we can make a difference in the system itself!
I just believe that when it is possible, we should do the right the thing for the parent and child unit.
What are some of the challenges facing the foster care community?
Sadly, it’s a lonely community. Unless you do this, you have no idea. There are so many issues!
This is the advice I would give anyone considering foster care:
You will be working with children who have been through trauma, you haven’t rescued them, they were separated from their parents, be educated on working with traumatized children. This is very, very important. Stay up to date on treatments for bonding and trauma. It’s worth it!
Don’t get overwhelmed! Stay involved in a foster parenting support group! They will be a lifesaver!
What’s it like to be in the foster and adoptive parent community? What’s it like to do this work?
You are always on your toes, always trying to be three steps ahead of everything yet perpetually late. You see horrid things and hear horrid stories. Some I can never tell.
But sharing in the triumphs is amazing, too! Watching a mom get her kids back out of the system after she’s worked so hard is so satisfying! Watching families as they are sworn in as they are adopted, taking those photos, seeing those smiles, it makes it worth it. Getting the phone call from a friend that has fought hard to get a bad home shut down and the sexual predator arrested, it makes it all worth it.
What would you say is the most pressing issue facing the foster care system?
Lack of funding. In our area, funding is a joke and what monies are appropriated for it may or may not ever make it to the system. Our social workers who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of humanity are not paid anywhere near what they need or deserve. Many have to take second or third jobs to feed their own families. They are on call day and night and most do not get overtime, and flex time is a joke in this field.
So the state hires grossly under-qualified and, in many cases, uneducated case workers to save money, and they are expected to know what the social workers know and do what the social workers do. They work insane hours, are terribly overworked as well, and because of the lack of funding, many don’t make it long in the job. This leaves case worker turnover high, and the children and foster parents suffer.
What have you learned while running Humans of Foster care that you think may be useful for child welfare professionals and policymakers to know? What would you say to them?
Our lawmakers and politicians need to hear us. They need to listen to the foster parents!
You need to get out from behind the desks and truly get involved to know what’s going on. Don’t just visit a children’s shelter; take one home for a weekend visit. Shadow a case worker for a day or take a social worker to lunch and not just for a photo opportunity. Get your hands dirty in this system, get to know the people. SEE them and HEAR them. Do what’s right.
We need you to enforce these laws and time limits so kids are not waiting around in the system. Make changes for these kids.
(Said gently, with a smile.)
And what would you say to people out there wondering if becoming a foster or adoptive parent is right for them?
It’s important to know this is NOT a “cheap” way to adopt. The purpose of foster care is to keep the children in a safe environment until they can return home. Being able to work as partners within the team of parents and case workers is very, very important. And the child should always remain the most important.
It’s also costly and any reimbursement the state may give you, comes after they are in your home, and it doesn’t cover everything. This is NOT a job. You will not make money doing this.
Be educated on child trauma and bonding. Take extra classes if you need to, but learn it.
Smile every day. Laugh it off. Things will get hard fast and it might stay hard for awhile, but what you’re doing is worth every second of struggle. You are changing lives.
Engage the parents. If you cannot, don’t foster. (Every case is different and I understand this is not always possible.) But don’t look only at the child and forget the parent. They need help, too.
These are things potential foster parents need to take into consideration before they take this adventure on.
What’s next for Humans of Foster Care?
I’d love to start with help, get some interns in. But I want it to grow. I want to raise awareness and funds to help others.
My longterm goal for my own family is land, more children, self-sustainability and to help other foster families. Kind of build a little community. Fostering isn’t easy. We need to help each other!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Always be kind. ❤️