More than 6,000 children are in foster care in West Virginia, and every child’s story is unique. Unfortunately, many people who consider becoming foster parents never do, because of an abundance of myths about foster care and mental health. May is both National Mental Health Awareness Month and National Foster Care Month, an ideal time to bring awareness to both mental health struggles and the need for foster parents. Let’s explore some common myths about foster care and mental health.
Myth: All Youth in Foster Care Have Been Abused
Truth: This is a common misconception, and one that has some truth to it. However, not all children in foster care have experienced abuse. Children enter foster care for complex reasons, and each family is different.
Not all children in a foster care situation come from physically, sexually or mentally abusive households. Neglect does not necessarily mean that a parent doesn’t care about the child and their wellbeing, but that they do not have the means or capacity to adequately care for them. This can include unstable or inadequate housing, lack of financial resources, and more. Connecting families to community and government resources often empowers families to improve their lives, meet children’s needs and remain safely together.
- Abuse or neglect by a parent, caregiver or family member
- The use of drugs or other substances
- Parental incarceration or other legal concerns
- Lack of parental skills or tools
“Each child, no matter their age, circumstance, or mental health status, is deserving of love and proper care,” says Kristi Ferrell, Director of Permanency with KVC West Virginia.
Myth: Every Child in Foster Care Has Anxiety and Depression
Truth: Not all children in the child welfare system experience mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.
Each child in foster care will go through a period of adjusting. It’s often traumatic and challenging for a child to be taken away from their biological family, regardless of the environment’s negative impact on the child. That said, some children enter foster care with previous mental health struggles, which caregivers need to address appropriately.
Overall, the history of a child’s trauma and their level of resiliency determine the health of their mental state, but with consistency and care, most children will be able to overcome those issues.
Myth: Children in Foster Care Always Misbehave
Truth: Not every child in foster care will struggle with not following directions, misbehavior or other behavioral concerns.
Children often do not always follow directions and rules, regardless of whether they are or are not in foster care. For many children, it’s just part of growing up! They are learning and developing and part of that process is pushing limits.
When a child is introduced to a new foster home and caregivers, the major changes, transitions and traumas might trigger them to misbehave. However, this could also be just part of normal childhood behavior and growth. Anna Lehew, KVC West Virginia Director of Wraparound Services, recommends that parents try to give the children time to adjust and not overreact at each slight misbehavior.
“Even the best kids have meltdowns,” Lehew reminds caregivers.
Myth: A Foster Family’s Birth Children and Children in Foster Care Can’t Coexist
Truth: By handling the situation with care, providing foster care in a home with familial children won’t disrupt the current balance or harm other children.
Sometimes, people are reluctant to become foster parents because of a misconception that adding a new child to the family could disrupt homeostasis and negatively impact other children. Providing foster care can offset the normal balance of the family during the initial transition — it is a big change, after all! But it’s not necessarily true that children in foster care will be a danger or cause harm to biological children.
“When a foster parent becomes concerned with a situation, the best thing to do is to look at what needs the child in foster care is trying to fill,” says Lorenzo Carunungan, Foster Care Supervisor and Licensed Therapist with KVC West Virginia.
Returning to that question after unusual or disruptive behavior allows the foster parent to interact differently with the child for a better result. Once a need is pinpointed and addressed, the concerning behavior often diminishes, and balance is restored more successfully.
Myth: Foster Parents with Mental Health Conditions Are Unfit to Care for Children in Foster Care
Truth: Mental health conditions aren’t an automatic disqualifier. It’s still possible to become a foster parent if you experience mental health challenges.
Potential foster parents shouldn’t disqualify themselves from foster parenting because they struggle with their own mental health issues. As in most situations within the foster system, this is determined on a case-by-case basis.
“Someone wanting to become a foster parent can provide professional documentation from an evaluation stating that the state of their mental health won’t be an issue,” says Ferrell. Since some children in foster care also struggle with mental health, these cases are monitored differently to ensure the foster parent and child are in a healthy environment.
A foster parent who is actively working with their own mental health issues may benefit a child struggling with mental health. These caregivers better understand and relate to certain mental health struggles, and will potentially be able to help, encourage and support the child through challenges that arise. When children see a role model facing mental health challenges with courage, they can be inspired to do the same.
Myth: Children in Families of Lower Socioeconomic Status Experience More Mental Health Challenges
Truth: Family income level has no direct effect on a child’s better or worse mental health.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate. This remains true for families living in poverty, for families with great wealth and everyone in between. It is a common misconception that children from higher income levels don’t struggle with mental health; similarly, poverty doesn’t bring about mental health issues.
“People and families have problems no matter their socioeconomic status,” says Lehew.
While socioeconomic status itself may not cause mental health challenges, it can exacerbate existing barriers and make it more difficult for families to receive the care they need. Barriers include the high cost of mental healthcare, lack of service availability in low-income communities, and mental health stigma. These barriers can lead to a delay in seeking diagnosis and treatment, which can worsen mental health conditions over time.
If your child or family is struggling with mental health, KVC is here to help. Get more information about our treatment options for children, adults and families on our website or call your local KVC office.
Myth: Therapy Is Magic
Truth: Therapy and counseling are crucial aspects of healing, but not always a quick fix when there’s been a lifetime of trauma.
Therapy and counseling can be life-changing tools — but they take time to be effective. “Certain behaviors, anxiety or depression is just the surface of a lifetime of experiences and a lifetime of maladaptive behaviors,” says Carunungan.
“By looking at it this way, you start seeing it as a process that should take longer than six months to a year,” he explains. “There’s no magic spell to fix these problems. It takes voluntary action and belief that things can change.”
In reality, the therapeutic process can be a lifetime’s worth of work. While therapy and counseling can be transformational to the impact of trauma, it’s important to remember that mental health is a journey. There’s always something new to uncover and work through.
How KVC Serves Children In Foster Care
Foster care is a safe place that allows a child and their birth family to resolve conflicts or disruptions and learn healthy skills so the child can safely return home. We’re always in need of compassionate families that want to open their home and heart to a child.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent and helping a child in need, contact KVC today.