Puts Spotlight on Foster Care
Expert Reveals How Reality of Foster Care
As the campaign for the presidency heats up, GOP candidate Michele Bachmann’s history as a foster parent to 23 children over the years has attracted the attention of both critics and supporters. However, child welfare expert Dr. Kalyani Gopal couldn’t care less about that part. She’s just happy someone is even talking about foster care.
“We need families,” said Dr. Gopal, a credentialed and preferred provider for the Division of Children and Families in Illinois, a contracted provider for the Department of Child Services in Indiana and also a Disability Evaluator for the State of Indiana. “The state of foster care in this country is not great and I believe that many more families could be participating in the program to help children around the country if they only knew the facts.”
In fact, Dr. Gopal hopes that the media chooses to focus more on the key political dispute regarding Bachmann’s foster care history, because it might help convince more people to become foster families.
“The criticism of Bachmann’s pride over having housed 23 foster children over the 11 years she was licensed as a foster parent is that the impression is she raised 23 children for most of their lives, when that is not the case,” said Dr. Gopal, author of The Supportive Foster Parent (www.
thesupportivefosterparent.com) . “Anyone who is in the system of foster care knows that the average engagement is only a few years, with some lasting as little as a few weeks, so the criticism is a little disingenuous. The truth is advocates of foster care would like those statistics to become better known, because it might help to convince qualified families to volunteer to be foster homes. While being a foster care provider requires commitment and a desire to help children, it does not mean that every child in their care will live with them until they are adults. That misconception might be the obstacle that keeps good families out of the system.”
The need for more foster families is acute, according to Dr. Gopal, who believes that many other problems in society could be solved if more children had stable foster homes on which to rely.
“The truth is that about 40 percent of foster kids wind up homeless at one point or another in their lives,” she said. “This homelessness does not begin in adulthood for foster children. It begins in childhood when they lose their parent. Moreover, up to 80 percent of incarcerated youth have been in foster care at some point. Most of these are not bad kids; they’re just kids who live without love and support. If we had more committed families in the system, we could reduce these statistics dramatically.”
Finally, Dr. Gopal believes that one deficiency in the current system is how foster care ends when the child turns 18. While legally adults, many of these foster children still need the love and stability of a foster home.
“Foster parents are expected to love their foster children and then let go without any notice,” she added. “The focus should be on helping to reduce disruption of foster homes by helping foster parents connect with their foster children. In that way, the children are not bounced from home to home, disrupting their capacity for healthy attachment. Healing the insecure attachment bonds is critical so that these children are better adjusted as young adults and have more stable interpersonal relationships. Emotional support does not have an expiration date and neither do these kids. All they need is love and hope, and their lives could be as fulfilling and productive as anyone else’s.”
About Dr. Kalyani Gopal
Dr. Kalyani Gopal is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 25 years experience in diverse clinical settings. Dr. Gopal is on the Lake County Child Protection Team, Lake County Child Fatality Team and was the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Lake County award in 2004. She currently holds the position as President/Clinical Director, Mid-America Psychological and Counseling Services in Merrillville, Indiana, and supervises three outpatient clinics in Indiana and Illinois. Dr. Gopal is a credentialed and preferred provider for the Division of Children and Families in Illinois, contracted provider for the Department of Child Services in Indiana and a Disability Evaluator for the State of Indiana.