RALEIGH AND DURHAM FOSTER CARE OFFICES CELEBRATE CHILD MENTAL HEALTH WEEK
by Leslie Ann Jackson, Program Manager, KidsPeace Foster Care, Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
The first week of May is National Child Mental Health Week, and, this year, the Raleigh and Durham FCCP offices in North Carolina got everyone involved in celebrating the themes of the week. The official color of the week is green, which, in the 1800s, was used to label people who were considered "insane" but is now used to represent the new life, new growth and new beginnings that are the goals of mental health treatment. Throughout the week, KidsPeace staff and foster parents wore green ribbons in recognition of this idea, and, on Tuesday, May 3, all staff dressed in green to show their support.
In addition, the staff, foster parents and children in the Durham-Chapel Hill program enjoyed a planting activity at the office. Those in attendance planted flowers to represent each of the children enrolled in the therapeutic foster care program and also planted seeds in cups to take home and nurture. The weather was perfect, and delicious refreshments rounded-out this fun, family activity.
The Raleigh office chose to celebrate by inviting children who attended SpringFest (a training day for foster parents) to participate in a poster contest, using the National Child Mental Health Week theme of "The Diversity and Resilience of our Families. The children were taught about diversity and resilience before they began and created bright, colorful and thoughtful representations of these concepts. All children were rewarded for their participation, and winners were selected by age group. Most importantly, everyone enjoyed the togetherness and fun of the activities held in each of these offices and were reminded of all there is to celebrate in the world of Child Mental Health.
For more information about foster care in North Carolina as well as Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada and the District of Columbia, visit fostercare.com, kidspeace.com, or call 866-4-KIDSPEACE (866-454-3773).
Another National Foster Care Month is about to draw to a close. There have been many efforts during May 2011 to reach out to the public through radio and television public service announcements, celebrations at the nation’s foster care offices and photos of children waiting for foster homes appearing in malls, on websites and in newspapers. The need for foster homes is great, and that need is constant throughout the year.
KidsPeace is a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of mental health services to children and families and places children and teens in foster homes across the country. Because more children enter the foster care system every month and the funding available to support these children diminishes constantly, KidsPeace encourages awareness of the number of children waiting for foster homes and the recognition of foster families all year long.
Government statistics indicate that there are more than 500,000 children in the nation’s foster care system, with nearly half them being older than 11 years. Many children are placed with relatives in order to strengthen family ties and lessen the adjustments to they need to make. Most, however, are placed in homes that are new and unfamiliar and must adjust to new schools, neighborhoods and “parents.”
According to KidsPeace National Director of Foster Care Ray Culp, the need to recruit foster parents willing to take in teens is critical. “These older kids will be aging out of the system soon,” Culp points out, “and they really need guidance from caring adults who will help prepare them for independent living.” From opening a checking account to applying for a job to purchasing health and auto insurance to grocery shopping to finding a place to live, teens need assistance and mentoring to make the transition to independence as smooth as possible.
Clearly, the teens who age out of the foster care system are at great risk when entering independent living unprepared. A large number wind up incarcerated within 2 years, nearly 60% of females give birth before they are 21, only about half graduate from high school and a very small number attend or graduate from college. Sadly, the children of former foster children are more likely to enter the foster care system themselves.
Strong foster parent recruitment efforts are essential to foster care providers like KidsPeace. “Once we have completed thorough background checks on adults who would like to become foster parents, we provide them with extensive training before ever placing a child in their homes,” Culp said. “After they have met all of our requirements, we then begin an extensive matching process that finds the best available home for each child.” KidsPeace’s careful matching leads to more successful placements and fewer disruptions for children due to failed placements.
Recruitment of foster families takes place throughout the year, and the number of new children needing foster homes grows every month. Therefore, KidsPeace urges those interested in learning more about becoming foster parents to visit fostercare.com. You could make an amazing difference in the life of a child or teen. We also urge the media to remember the importance of foster care throughout the year because there are always children waiting.
There are many examples of how KidsPeace foster care offices go above and beyond on behalf of our foster families. Our Danville, PA, office is a great example of an office that puts forth extra effort. Their summer is off to a great start with their plans to raise money to support their programs,sponsor events to bring foster families together for fun and relaxation and get the word out about KidsPeace Foster Care.
KidsPeace Foster Care of Danville is currently running a fundraiser that will run through the end of June. It is a Pampered Chef raffle. To have a chance in the raffle the office is accepting a $10 donation for each tickets. The odds are quite good since a ticket will be drawn every day in the month of June with prizes ranging in value from $25-$85. For more information on this fundraiser, call 800-876-0590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 5, KidsPeace Foster Care of Danville and Williamsport, PA, will be answering telephones for the Children's Miracle Network telethon from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. This is a great opportunity to support the community and a worthy cause. It will also raise awareness of KidsPeace Foster Care in this part of PA.
Thanks to The Second Mile, KidsPeace of Danville foster families and staff will have the opportunity to enjoy a fun-filled "Family Day" day on June 16 at Knoebels Amusement Resort, in Elysburg, PA.
Finally, on August 12, KidsPeace Foster Care of Danville will be hosting its 2nd Annual Golf Tournament. It will be structured as a four man scramble with a shot-gun start at 9:00 a.m. Golfers can sign up teams at $70 per golfer, $280 per team. The tournament will be held at Rolling Pines Golf Course in Berwick, PA, and the sign-up fee includes: a round of golf, a cart and a meal at the end of the tournament! There will be an opportunity to win a car as a hole in one prize, and $5,000 in a putting contest. The proceeds of this tournament will benefit foster kids and parents throughout the year. For more information on this fundraiser, call 800-876-0590 or email email@example.com.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, visit fostercare.com.
Placing children and adolescents in foster homes is a complex process that requires skilled family resource specialists and case workers along with experienced program managers and a pool of available, well trained foster parents who are willing to welcome a child into their homes, at times on an hour's notice. Whether a child is in a foster home for a day, a week, a month or a year, he must feel safe and cared for and understood regardless of the severity of his problem or situation.
KidsPeace offers foster care services in 10 states and the District of Columbia, all of which have different laws, rules and regulations regarding foster care. The staff must keep themselves and the foster parents with whom they place children up to date on all state and federal regulatory changes and information that is important to the care and safety of the kids, while providing the mandated hours of training each foster parent must attend. In addition to general training, foster parents are trained on specific conditions, treatments, therapeutic models and parenting skills to meet the needs of the children they accept.
According to Betsy Lunney, State Manager of the Foster Care and Community Programs for KidsPeace in Pennsylvania, there are several different types of foster care. "Respite care involves caring for a child for a day, a weekend or longer when his foster family needs a break for such reasons as an illness, a death in the family, a need to travel without children or time to regroup and figure out, along with the treatment team, how to improve the relationship with him. In fact, some families start out providing respite care to see if foster parenting is right for their household."
There is also emergency shelter care, where a child has been removed from her home and needs immediate placement for less than 30 days; short-term placement (3-6 months); long-term placement (longer than 6 months); and foster care until adoption can be arranged (fost-adopt), often by the foster parents. Kinship foster care places children with their relatives who are willing to go through the same foster parent screening process and training to accept responsibility for children to keep them within their extended families.
The Approval Process
Family Resource Specialists are the KidsPeace associates responsible for the licensing process for foster parent applicants. They conduct interviews with family members, process all application paperwork required by state regulation or the agency and offer required training. A rigorous background check is performed on family members in the household, as well as on extended family members and baby sitters who will supervise the foster children. In addition to processing background checks, general paperwork and providing training for the applicant parents, the family resource specialists spend time with them in their homes to determine with the family, the types of children most suitable for the home. Among other things, this is accomplished with consideration for the family's lifestyle, life experiences, size of the home, family interests and the amount of time the foster parent(s) will have to spend taking a foster child to various appointments and visits with their families. Foster parent applicants are encouraged to identify race and gender preferences, along with age range and any particular emotional and behavioral issues that children might present. The number of children the family can accommodate is identified, and those able to care for more than one child are asked to consider sibling groups to avoid their separation when possible.
"We don't limit ourselves to certain types of families," Lunney explained. "We have single parents, same sex couples, families with grown children and families with children living at home. What is important is that foster parents have no violent criminal backgrounds, are at least 21 years old, are in good health, have sufficient income to meet the family needs, have an insured car to transport the foster child, and have sufficient room in the home to allow the foster child to have his own space. Having some parenting experience and a willingness to care for children with unique needs are also important."
The approval process may initially feel intrusive to the potential foster family, but it is imperative that the agency learn as much about a foster family and its members as possible before placing a child. There are questions about parenting styles, current family interactions, birth children's behavior, socio-economic status and financial status, hobbies, ages of family members, health and the family's motivation to foster and their willingness to work in partnership with the agency.The Job of Foster Parenting
Foster parenting is a very difficult job and could be seen as a community service, according to Lunney. It is the job of foster parents to teach the children new skills, help them negotiate the world and augment the therapy or treatment they are receiving from mental health care professionals to heal from abuse or neglect they may have suffered prior to entering their homes. The matching process goes deeper, depending on the issues of the child. Is a foster family willing to take a bed wetter or a child who has difficulty forming attachments or a child who needs to be taken to a tutor every day after school? Families that are overscheduled or in which parents work different shifts may be inappropriate for a child who needs hours of daily help with homework or becomes anxious when his schedule is disrupted in any way. KidsPeace encourages foster parents to get their foster children involved in community activities, sports, church groups and bands or scouting.
Lunney described the matching process as more of an art than a science. It is based on the family resource specialists' understanding of the needs of the child and the capabilities of the foster parents to meet those needs. "We gather available and significant background information on the children as well," Lunney explained. Many kids come into foster care to remove them from homes that have been deemed unsafe due to abuse or neglect, and an increasing number of children have severe issues and need assistance with daily living, behavioral and emotional disorders, a need to gain independent living skills and care that will keep them out of the juvenile justice system. Once placed, KidsPeace caseworkers visit often to make sure that the children are doing well and that their psychological, behavioral, educational and physical needs are being met.Adoption
More and more frequently, foster children's parental rights are terminated, and the children become available for adoption. The laws differ from state to state, but the Federal "Adoption and Safe Families Act" of 1997 made finding permanency for the nation's foster children a priority. If birth parents cannot show within a reasonable amount of time that they have improved the home environment from which their children were taken or that they have stopped abusing drugs or alcohol or received counseling to help them overcome their difficulties, their parental rights are terminated. Once that occurs, children become available for adoption by a loving home. Many foster parents become attached to the children they are fostering and apply to adopt them when they become available for permanent placement.
"The government wants to stop the problem of kids languishing in the foster care system until they are 18 and then being released into the community without support systems or the proper training to live independently," Lunney explained. Adoption gives these children families who will assist them through the transition to college or independent living and ensure that they have a home to which they are attached for the rest of their lives.
"Although it makes us very happy when one of our foster children finds a permanent home with one of our foster families, it often means that the family will have no room to take in additional foster children," Lunney said, so our foster parent recruitment process is ongoing." In Pennsylvania, KidsPeace is able to facilitate adoptions and also conducts adoptive family home studies for international and domestic adoptions of children not in the foster care system. Visit Fostercare.com
for more information on KidsPeace foster care services.
When Tonya* came to KP Foster Care more than three years ago, she had suffered a significant loss in her biological family and was going through a lot of challenges. She initially refused treatment and rebelled against suggestions, schoolwork and support. She moved around in different therapeutic foster homes and then was placed temporarily with a family for what KidsPeace staff thought would be a week or so. Suddenly, however, Tonya she was “home”!
Soon, Tonya began really excelling in school; in fact, she was elected secretary of the student council. Her cooperation skills with her treatment team have improved so significantly she is constantly meeting goals and progressing. Tonya also began taking better care of her body and started to demonstrate an outstanding sense of self-confidence. She has been able to participate in speeches at her school in front of the entire student body, she has advocated for her goals in the courtroom in front of a judge and she has even run her own treatment team meetings.
Tonya enjoys her foster family tremendously. When asked what the key to success in this home versus others in which she has lived, she simply replied “love.” She then said that, when she comes home from a long day, she feels comfortable and safe. She explained, “ I don’t have to worry because nothing is going to bother me here.”
She talked about her Treatment sisters, Sally* and Kathy* as role models in her life, Tonya stated that they inspire her to stay in shape, giving her fashion tips and helping her build positive relationships. She discussed her Treatment parents, Meg and Al, saying that they are great listeners, so respectful and helpful to her daily. Tonya said that, since
moving, she no longer has the desire to run away and has found herself to be more patient and trustworthy. She added that, if she could give advice to other foster children, she would say, “Try to stay in one place and see how the family really is. If I never met them (her current Treatment family) I don’t know what I would have done.”
Tonya’s Treatment mother, Meg, added that she finds joy in seeing how comfortable and verbal she has become. A KidsPeace Program Manager asked Meg what gift Tonya brings to her family. Totally in line with what Tiffany answered, she immediately answered with the word: “love.” Meg shared that she became a treatment foster parent to help more kids after raising her biological children. She proudly explained that now, “Tonya has become my daughter.” Clearly, a change in placement brought them together, but love made them a “family.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Barbara Hancock* has been involved in foster care for more than a decade. She has fostered more than 25 children, adopted three and worked as an Adoption Specialist and Foster Parent Trainer for KidsPeace Foster Care for two years. She and her husband have one biological son who is in his teens and very involved, organizing a walk every year to raise awareness of the need for foster and adoptive families. The family has also started a ministry at their church to promote foster care and adoption and collect and assemble backpacks that are filled with personal items and age appropriate toys and activities and given to each child entering foster care through one of the KidsPeace foster care offices.
The dynamics that must exist between the husband and wife who foster or adopt are not definable, according to Barbara. “They have to be on the same page or it can tear the family apart,” she said. “It is truly a journey, but, when it works, it is an experience that will bring couples closer together and become a path they walk together throughout their marriage.”
Working in a Foster Care/Adoption Setting
Barbara is a former teacher. While at KidsPeace, she conducted home studies and child profiles for potential adoptive parents, “doing the prep work to enable a family to adopt a child,” she said. Foster parents have the first opportunity to adopt the child in their home if parental rights are terminated. She also conducted foster family recruiting, helped families through the approval process and provided many of the mandatory training hours each family must have. In addition, she started a KidsPeace Foster Care Support Group for the families in the area.
She was passionate about making the whole process easier for the foster/adoptive parents. “It is hard to move kids, and it sometimes takes a few tries to find the home that meets the child’s needs, but the child deserves it,” according to Barbara. She stressed that case workers do not hold it against foster families who give notice that a child is not working out in their homes. “Kids are challenging, and there must be a connection with the foster family for the placement to work,” she explained. She also feels that families who take in teenagers “are saints” because it is often harder to develop connections with
Taking Children into Your Home
Barbara began foster parenting because she and her husband wanted to adopt siblings for their son. She has always taken children younger than her son because she believes it is important to keep the birth order and keep him in the role of “big brother” to all children who come into their home. She has primarily done regular rather than treatment foster care, although she did have one child who suffered from shaken baby syndrome. The Hancocks took the child to several specialists and came to mentor the mother who had also been abused by the baby’s father, having her spend weekends at their home as she learned how to parent her son. Barbara considers this a real success story because the mother now has custody, and the child, despite some delays, is doing well.
Barbara is adamant about improving the image of foster parents. She wants the public to see them as average families living in average neighborhoods who are not expecting to make any money from fostering. They are not out to save the world, but they want to provide nurturing environments for children who have no place to go.
When asked what it takes to be a good foster or adoptive parent, Barbara said, “You have to have a big heart and want to help children.” She went on to explain that flexibility is very important because a home full of children can be chaotic at times. There is a great need for a support system of family members, friends, church groups and other foster families who can drop off a meal, for instance, when there is no time to cook because a new child is arriving in an hour. She emphasized that no one expects super parents; just open hearts and welcoming homes.
*Name changed to protect privacy
According to the National Foster Care Month website, there are more than
400,000 children and teens currently in the foster care system, and the
need for families to care for these young people is great. May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize foster parents for their extraordinary work with this nation's foster children. It is also a time to recognize how difficult life is for most foster children when they are taken from their families and schools and placed in new households for temporary or permanent stays. Finally, it is a time to note the efforts of the professionals who work in foster care, recruiting and training foster families, placing children in good homes, providing support and treatment to foster children and always being available to foster parents if a problem arises.
KidsPeace is committed to helping find permanency for foster children, which is in line with federal and state guidelines. We are also committed to helping foster teens make the transition from foster care to independence when they age out of the system at 18. We provide life skills training programs to older foster kids to help them prepare to find a job and an apartment, buy, register and insure a car, open and track a checking account, pay bills on time and learn many other skills that help them face life on their own. KidsPeace also ensures that foster children receive the mental health and tutoring services they need to be successful in foster placement.
KidsPeace carefully matches each child to a family that will best suit their needs and with which he or she will be a good fit. It is extremely hard on children to be moved from one house to another until a good match is made. “The federal mandate is to reduce ‘drift,’ which means kids being placed in home after home, which is very damaging to their ability to attach and their self-esteem. It is therefore the job of organizations such as ours to be extremely selective when interviewing potential foster families and providing them with in-depth training and support to deal with any crises that arise, 24/7,” according to Foster Care and Family Services Regional Director for KidsPeace Ken Olson. “At KidsPeace, we do everything in our power to make our placements successful. We want our kids to stay in one foster home until they are returned to their families or are adopted, often by their foster families.”
You are never alone if you join the KidsPeace Foster Care team. Our training is extensive, we are always there to help you and your foster child and you become a member of our Foster Care Community, where you will meet other foster parents, participate in KidsPeace sponsored events and know that you are a vital member of the child's foster care team. We often have sibling groups that will be so happy if a family takes them in together. KidsPeace especially encourages you to agree to take in a teen to guide to adulthood.
If you have ever thought about what it might be like to be a foster parent, please take step toward foster parenting this May. KidsPeace invites the you to consider becoming a foster parent by reviewing these questions:
1. Would you like to make a difference in the life of a child in need?
2. Can you open your home to a foster child who has been closely matched with the dynamics of your family?
3. Are you loving, patient, understanding, nonjudgmental and warm, and do you respect each child as an individual?
4. Would you like to be treated as a full member of the professional team focused on your child's best interest?
5. Can you provide your foster child with a safe environment that allows privacy and personal space?
6. Are you over 21?
7. Do you have a source of earned income that is sufficient to support your family?
8. Do you have a fully insured automobile and the time to transport your foster child to appointments, activities and family visitations?
9. Are you available to attend extensive training about foster parenting?
10. Do you have a background that is free of crime against children?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may be eligible to become a foster parent. For more information, visit KidsPeace Foster Care at Fostercare.com.