Author: Kristina DeVesty, Guest Blogger
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on any given day there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care. The phrase “foster care” often comes loaded with negative connotations, myths, and stereotypes. Those of us outside the system may struggle to understand it, or how to best support those involved in it. However, I recently got to speak with Rochelle White, the Social Worker Supervisor at LSS/NCA, to learn more about how foster care is helping families in our community.
I learned that what is often lost in the discussion surrounding foster care is that the main goal is first and foremost to keep families together. “A huge myth is that if the social workers come, they are here to take your children,” White said. “Actually, our goal is to NOT remove children.”
To provide an example, White spoke about a young, single mother of five children. As you can imagine, the needs and requirements of five children are overwhelming, especially when one lacks support, and the mother struggled to provide for her family and properly supervise her kids. LSS/NCA social workers stepped in to offer assistance and tips to make the home a safer environment. This is important to note: many people only hear about when children are removed from homes. What they may not know is before that stage is reached, a social worker is often able to work with families and remedy problems just by making home visits and offering pertinent guidance.
However, even if kids are temporarily removed from the home, the primary hope is always reunification. In this case, the children were put in foster care while the mother worked to get her mental health and employment back on track. The children were split up, with the three youngest going to one placement and the eldest, two four-year-old twins, going to another foster family that works with LSS/NCA.
The foster parents with LSS/NCA, according to White, “came in very committed to the process” and ready to love these twins and forge a relationship with their birth mom. The transition certainly was not easy. If you’ve ever been in the presence of preschool boys, you can imagine the level of energy required to keep up! Like many children in foster care, the boys struggled as they settled into a new home, and were at times a little aggressive or unpredictable. One was diagnosed with ADHD and required medication, which meant that there would be additional doctor and school IEP meetings to attend, as well. Despite these difficulties, the foster care parents were patient and compassionate, and worked hard to meet the needs of the kids.
The beauty of foster care, however, is that the story doesn’t end there. All three “players” on the team (the foster parents, the birth mother, and social workers) worked hard for over a year to encourage the long term well-being of these little boys. The foster parents communicated frequently with the birth mother, supported various therapies for the twins, and of course met their day-to-day needs. The birth mother received care for her own mental health, never missed a single visitation, and was very involved in her children’s education. Social worker Anthony Campbell supported both parties with guidance and resources as they facilitated the reunification process. Today, the twins are back with their birth mother in a safe environment and their three siblings are in the process of joining, too!
The difference between now and then? “She didn’t have the resources she does now,” said White. When LSS/NCA comes alongside a family, they make sure physical and financial needs are being met. In addition, they provide valuable coaching opportunities. During a visit, social workers can coach parents through everything from how to discipline to suggestions for age-appropriate kid activities. Even after children are reunited with their birth family, LSS/NCA still continues to offer assistance and monitoring by checking in on the children, their therapies and education, and the home environment. In this case, Campbell still engages with mom on a monthly basis. “Our main goal is for parents to parent successfully without us,” explained White, and the entire team works hard to that end.
If you have a heart for seeing families made whole and children receiving the care they need and deserve, you may consider fostering. In particular, there is an urgent need for families that are willing to host teenagers. “A lot of foster care parents want to work with younger children or babies,” explained White, but that leaves a large group of kids feeling unwanted. “Teenagers [also] need love, support, and nurturing, and lots of times we don’t have anyone for them.” If you or someone you know is interested in being that foster parent for LSS/NCA, you can find more information here.