GMP asked: From what you wrote it seems that prospective foster parents are quite thoroughly checked. In contrast, there are all these horror stories about foster care abuse cases in the news and TV shows -- do you feel they are grossly exaggerated?
I think there are varying degrees of abuse and mistreatment that occur in the foster care system, and the worst ones get sensationalized by the media. The reasons for abuse and mistreatment in the foster care system are many.
First, foster parents are human beings, just like everyone else. We all make mistakes with our biological children, and it is even harder to do the right thing every time with a child you don't know very well. Foster children, who are justifiably hurting and scared, can react in very unexpected ways and really try your patience. So if you are not well prepared or having a particularly bad day, you might reach the end of your rope before you know what happened.
Second, a lot of the people who are attracted to becoming foster parents had bad childhoods themselves. They want to make up for their own bad childhoods by providing an abused or neglected child with the care they themselves could have used as a child. While this is certainly a noble motivation, the foster parent's own childhood issues can result in them having a limited skillset when it comes to rearing children. Couple this limited skillset with children who test your mettle and you can really have an explosive environment.
Third, there are evil people who want to become foster parents for the purpose of exploiting children. The successful ones do not have criminal records and they have sufficient social skills that they can pass the home study process without tipping anyone off to their psychopathology. In our classes, our teacher told us about a case where a man who did not (yet) have a criminal record became a foster parent for the sole purpose of grooming teenage girls so he could sexually abuse them. Luckily they caught him before he could do much damage.
On my flight out of Alaska, I was seated next to an Alaskan foster mom. We talked quite a bit, and compared notes about the foster care systems in our states. The Tennessee system seems quite a bit more generous than the Alaska system, despite Tennessee's relative poverty as a state. We receive more money to take care of the kids (sad, considering the extremely high cost of living in Alaska), and they do not receive respite care. Our kids receive an allowance of $1/day, money that belongs to them, whereas Alaska's kids do not receive an allowance. Also, Tennessee will pay for college or vocational training for youngsters who age out of the foster system, but Alaska does not.
I think this illustrates pretty clearly how different each state's system is. That's why it seems to me that in some states the rules are more lax than in others, and there is more abuse within the system. Florida is a state that seems to have a notoriously bad foster care system. I'm sure this is due to the fact that the social workers are overworked and lack the resources to give all the children in the system the care that they need, and some end up falling through the cracks.
But even in the best systems, there will be mistakes and people get licensed who should not be. And being a foster parent is hard! I can understand how the frustration of it can lead people to make bad parenting choices out of desperation. It's not an excuse but it is an explanation.
Have any questions about foster parenting? Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!