Busting Child Welfare Myths

January 29, 2024 at 10:12 AM |
Posted by:
Tiffany Meredith
Tiffany Meredith

Each year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent throughout the United States raising awareness about children in foster care. These campaigns are intended to pull at the heartstrings so that people are called to action. Unfortunately, the picture (nee I say myths) these campaigns paint of unloved and unwanted children frequently epitomizes the toxic narrative that is decimating families under the veil of child protection. I’d like to offer my own counter-narrative to some of these myths so that we may begin to get the story straight.


  1. “Children in foster care need saving from their families because they must be causing harm.” 

Everyone supports the idea of children having safe and loving homes, so this myth is easy to fall for. Reality is, most children placed in foster care are not there due to violent abuse but rather reasons of neglect, oftentimes directly connected to poverty, mental health, or substance use. None of these are reasons to tear apart families. Children do not to be rescued, but rather they and their parents need help. They need access to culturally relevant and affordable treatment options. They need affordable and healthy foods at grocery stores in their communities. They need safe affordable housing. They need jobs that provide a living wage and safe, affordable childcare.


  1. “Children in foster care are unloved by their families.”

Underneath this myth is the belief that children in foster care are unwanted, have not ever received love, and therefore do not know how to love or be loved. This myth further suggests most kids in foster care don’t know how to trust anybody and have “attachment disorders”. While potentially true for some children, it is not true for most. Children in foster care have strong connections with their families. They want to be with them. And they love them. We need to stop spreading the lie that parents who struggle do not love their children. Or that aunties, cousins, grandmas, and siblings don’t love them and are unwilling to take care of them.


  1. “Material things equate to happiness. Having more, better, bigger stuff makes you happier.”

This myth doesn’t just apply to foster care, it is a myth as old as time. But we’ve heard it a million times when it comes to children in foster care. The foster parent lives in a better neighborhood, has a bigger house, can buy the child more stuff. I’ve even heard a nationally known foster parent suggest that some children in foster care never celebrate holidays or birthdays, as if getting presents is the gauge for happiness. Being with family trumps having more stuff every time. And there are well-loved children all over the world that don’t get presents or celebrate holidays and birthdays. Or they celebrate in their own special ways that may or may not include presents. The ability and/or desire to provide material things to children does not justify keeping a child away from their family.  


  1. “Foster families are a better suited as a placement option than kin the child does not know, because they are vetted by the child welfare system.”


The power of family connection transcends beyond how many times you’ve met. Even when relatives seeking placement have “only met the child once”, they often are a better fit for the child. For many, family is family is family. It doesn’t matter if we’ve spent every day together, or are just meeting, or have never met before today. If you are family, I love you, I will take care of you, you matter to me. There is a bond that happens just because we are linked by blood. I know this is true for my family. 


  1. “We can ignore the impact bias has on families impacted by the child welfare system.”

Bias, in particular racial bias, is a real and pervasive phenomenon that presents in every system in our society, including child welfare. For far too long we have tried to ignore the presence of bias and in so doing, children and families have been harmed. The truth is we pass judgments on parents and relatives of children in the system based on appearances, behaviors, communication styles, and much more. Bias shows up in our policies, practices, and decision-making every single day. As a result, data shows that Black children are disproportionately overrepresented in the foster care system. We must intentionally combat the racial bias inherent in the American culture to work reduce this disproportionality.     


  1. “Placing children in foster care helps them have a better future.”

The truth is the outcomes for kids in foster care are bad and the foster care system fails children and families each day. However, I’d argue the failure came far before the child even entered foster care. The child welfare system fails families when they resort to tearing them apart. They fail to offer support and resources to the parents. Fail to preserve family connections. 



Every one of us has a child or a family right in our own community that is struggling. A family at risk of being separated because they do not have the supports and resources they need to not only survive, but to thrive. While educating ourselves on the realities of the child welfare and foster care systems is a step in the right direction, I believe that we all can offer help on the ground in tangible ways. Here are few ideas to help children and families in your community: 

  • If you are Mandated Reporter (required to report suspected child abuse or neglect), offer support to families before you report. Perhaps there is a way you can help that doesn’t involve contacting child protective services.
  • Consider donating to or volunteering at local agencies that are helping families meet concrete needs.
  • Spread the word to colleagues, friends, and family members in your network on how they help keep families safely together too. 
  • Consider how racism and bias show up in your practice and work to make a change.