On Foster Care and Pets: Dogs Over Orphans?

Here’s something I never though I’d say: I’m a social worker. I work in foster care. My job involves going out into the community and recruiting new foster parents. I use social media to advertise our agency’s events and educate the community about the need for foster care. In Philadelphia alone there are about 6,000 children in out-of-home care.

As I began ramping up my social media efforts, I noticed something interesting. Many of the Instagram photos with the hashtag #fostercare have nothing to do with the child welfare system or foster children. At least, they have nothing to do with human foster children. Instead, I found picture after picture of foster dogs and foster cats. Even a search of #fosterparent turned up pet owners who fashion their pets as children.

It would appear, based on my very unscientific Instagram survey, that there is more energy around caring for animals than for human children.

As you can probably guess, this is disturbing for me. My job is riding on me getting people excited about fostering humans. My work is driven by a passion to give children safe homes. Pets are awesome, but sometimes it feel like rescue dogs aren’t leaving enough elbow room for kids who need a home. Besides, doesn’t giving a human a family do more for society than giving a dog a family?

Now, maybe I’m overreacting. After all, there are not confidentiality laws around posting a picture of your dog on Instagram. Maybe it’s just easier to talk about the cat you got from an animal shelter. Maybe our society really does care about children as much as we care about pets. Maybe I’m going overboard. But I’m probably not.

What About the Children?

Let’s consider the orphan girl that a government employee threw across the room because she didn’t do what he said. In case you forgot, a school resource officer in South Carolina assaulted a student.

At first, I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t want to get angry. I didn’t want to mourn the evil that is in our society. Curiosity, however, got the best of me. What I saw was disturbing. A grown man flipped, slammed, and threw a girl because he didn’t follow his order. It was like watching a modern adaptation of Roots.

What was more disturbing is how people responded to the situation. In a critical moment, a moment that would reveal our society’s attitudes towards it’s children, many decided to blame the victim.

She should have been more respectful.
You shouldn’t disobey a police officer.
Kids today are soft.
What else was he supposed to do?
What happened before the video started? She must have had a weapon or something.
That’s what happens when you resist.

This girl was an orphan. Her mother had recently died and she was in foster care. Do we care? No. She didn’t follow commands, so punish her.

I wonder what would happen if we treated our dogs this way? If only there was a high-profile case of dog abuse for comparison…

Of course, we now have a new video of a foster child being abused by police. Sadly, this victim didn’t live to tell his story.

Chicago has recently been brimming over with protest and emotion. People are responding to the release of a video of police shooting Laquan McDonald. It took a year to get the video released. It contradicts the police department’s original story about the incident.

What really disturbs me, however, is that McDonald was a foster child. We was bounced from home to home. He may have been abused in one of those foster homes. At one point, he was sent back to his mother, where he was abused by her boyfriend. The same government that senselessly executed McDonald in the middle of a Chicago street has been failing him almost his entire life. From what we can tell, just when he was ready to rise above all the obstacles thrown his way, he was gunned down by someone taxpayers pay to protect and serve.

Why do we accept such a fate for our children? Why are we more willing to invest money and energy and emotion into the safety of our pets than the safety of our kids? Why do people seem more upset about Mike Vick throwing a football to a wide receiver than about a police officer throwing an orphan into a wall?

When I started my current job – my first in child welfare – I learned an interesting piece of history. In this country, people organized and passed laws to prevent cruelty to animals before they organized and passed laws to prevent cruelty to children. It would appear that more than a century later our children are still forced to play catch-up.