May is National Foster Care Month and our Foster Parents deserve great appreciation – they do an amazing, mostly unrecognized and unrewarded job. There aren’t too many folks willing to open up their home to a complete stranger who has been traumatized, who may have serious mental and/or emotional needs, or who presents some very challenging, difficult to manage behaviors. However, thankfully thousands of families still decide to foster parent with incredible results. And we should all be very thankful that they do. If you know someone who is or was a foster parent, pick up the phone, send them a text or an email, and tell them, “Thank You! You’ve filled an incredible need.”
Presently, the nature of “foster care” is at the apex of major and significant change; really good change at that. There was a time, not so long ago, when a child or youth would enter into foster care and pretty much be raised by the “system.” I like to think of it as the Family-Orphanage model. Foster children received basic care and support until they became of age and were then sent out on their own without any tangible resources. This is not only bad for kids, it’s expensive for taxpayers—another example of ineffective public policy! Fortunately, this policy is changing.
The first and most important change in our foster care system, initiated by the Federal Administration of Child & Youth Services, was to define what foster care is—or isn’t for that matter—and to set clear goals and outcomes. Foster care is not a permanent solution for children removed from their families. Foster care is a short-term intervention which provides safety, promotes wellbeing and establishes a permanent family for the child. A permanent family could mean reunification with their own parents, a permanent placement with a relative or next of kin, adoption, guardianship or supported independent living for older youth. Foster care should always be a temporary transition to Permanency!
The second monumental shift in how we care for foster children is the role of the Foster Parent. For decades, foster parents were expected to take in children and youth and keep them for as long as was needed, very often until they turned 18. Foster children were safe and cared for, but had no sense of permanence or stability; and foster parents, for all intents and purposes, were on their own with little to no assistance and support. Now foster parents are transitioning into Resource Parents. A Resource Parent is a highly skilled professional who works with a team to ensure each child is safe, that their needs are being met, that they are effectively recovering from any trauma they have experienced and that they move quickly into a permanent living situation.
Resource Parents really are a special class of professional parents. In addition to providing basic care and supervision, they are taught the necessary skills to provide an array of interventions which promote wellbeing and prepare foster children/youth for permanency. This may include providing: 24/7 emergency shelter care; Therapeutic Foster Parenting; crisis intervention, behavioral management and lifeskill development; tutoring/mentoring to biological or adoptive families; and/or working with children/youth with special medical or physical needs. Some Resource Parents also become a “permanent family” for their foster children through adoption. At the Family Care Network, we have seen over 150 foster children in the past seven years adopted, mostly by our Resource Parents!
The State of California is now taking a national lead in making sure the state’s foster care system fully embraces and incorporates these positive and important changes and best practices. In June 2012, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 1013 which was signed by the Governor and became law. SB 1013 mandated a statewide “Continuum of Care Reform” process, with the goal to create a comprehensive recommendation to the legislature on how to best reform California’s foster care system. I have been privileged to serve in this endeavor. It has been exciting to participate in the development of a “core practice model” and explore best practices, program models, standards and methods which will absolutely benefit California’s foster children and youth. This ambitious project will produce monumental positive change in our state.
An effective foster care system requires top-notch, committed Resource Parents. The Family Care Network, a statewide leader in providing the very best and most effective foster care services, invites you to consider joining our team as a Resource Parent serving the Central Coast. Learn more by visiting FCNI.org or calling 866.781.3535.