Helping Families Stay Together
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and serves as a reminder of how much work there is still left to do if we wish to build a future where all children and families have an equal chance to thrive. The theme of this year’s campaign is Relative and Kin Connections: Keeping Families Strong. This theme resonates with Children’s Home & Aid’s value of Partnership. Partnership is a core part of our SCOPE—Strong Families, Community; Opportunity; Partnership and Equity—the set of values guiding our evolution as an agency.
Partnerships are the glue that holds our work together. Strong partnerships start with listening. The experiences families share stick with us because they are complex, painful, and not easily wrapped up with a neat ending. But that doesn’t deter us. As partners of the families we serve, we are committed to embracing the ups and the downs of the healing journey, holding space with intention and vulnerability.
The story of Janna (name changed for privacy), illustrates the many obstacles that some parents are up against. As a single mom raising two children—ages six and seven—Janna was confronted with daily choices that no parent should have to consider. Janna lived below the poverty line and lacked transportation, which made it difficult for her to keep the children’s medical appointments and take them to school regularly. With limited access to safe childcare options, Janna was constantly torn between caring for her family and earning money to keep the family stable.
But Janna didn’t ask for help, fearing her abilities as a parent would be questioned. Having grown up in foster care herself, Janna was now facing the same types of no-win situations that her mother once navigated. When the system did intervene, it was devastating. What Janna needed was a partner.
No parent should have to carry the load on their own. Janna’s experiences demonstrate the enormity of the issues we are up against (and have always been up against) when it comes to fixing a foster care system too often hostile to parents dealing with challenges that would overwhelm any of us. Poverty, unstable and unsafe housing, past trauma, lack of access to physical and mental health care, isolation, and little support—these are the obstacles that tear families apart.
At Children’s Home & Aid, we understand that change happens within the context of the family and through the creation of partnerships. In Janna’s situation, our caregiver support team facilitated the relationship between Janna and the foster family, enabling a true collaboration to meet the needs of her children. Our foster parent mentoring program was another important piece of the puzzle, helping to ensure the foster family had the support and resources they needed as caregivers. Finally, our incredible staff worked with Janna to support her as she gained new parenting skills, found a steady job, and secured a safe place for her family to live. At the end of this tale of partnerships is an incredible outcome: Janna and her children were reunited in December 2021.
For many children, extended families and friends provide the support they need. Whether it be a grandparent, an aunt and uncle, or in many cases, an older sibling, the security of family can give children an extra measure of security, minimizing the trauma of separation and helping to maintain meaningful connections and cultural traditions.
Our child welfare team is extending the support available to families with three parent partners who have successfully reunited with their own children and now will help other parents do the same. This month, our caregiver support team is also launching a new foster care recruitment toolkit that will highlight the importance of partnership in our work so potential caregivers understand their unique role in facilitating the child’s relationship with their family. Our caregiver support specialists walk alongside relative caregivers to assist with increasing shared parenting experiences, training, and support.
And thanks to the partnership between our child welfare staff and our Ahlquist Center for Policy, Practice & Innovation, new legislation in Illinois provides additional services to relatives caring for children outside of the formal foster care system. These services for families in the Extended Family Support program can strengthen the family and reduce the likelihood that the children will ever need to enter foster care.
“I could have let my grandkids go into the system, but in my heart and mind there was no doubt what the choice would be. My family is always first. It was at that point my grandchildren came to stay with me.” ~ Jennifer, Relative Caregiver
National Foster Care Awareness Month reminds us of the importance of providing opportunity—at every point possible—for families to tap into their potential and overcome obstacles so they can create the safe, nurturing environments their children need to thrive. We are doing this transformative work through the power of partnerships—from the relationships we build with families to our ongoing collaborations with community leaders, service organizations, and supporters who understand what it takes to get this important work done.
We urge you to explore the resources shared below to better understand the issues at hand, including several blogs and videos where caregivers share their experiences of fostering and explain the unique role they have to play in strengthening their families. You can also learn about fostering with us or visit our child welfare page to find out more about our services. Discover how we’re transforming the existing child welfare system and replacing it with what we know to be child, family and community well-being solutions.
Resources, Readings, and Videos:
- Celebrating the Unique Strengths and Commitment of Relative Caregivers (Children’s Home & Aid)
- Dbldaddy: A Grandfather’s Love (Children’s Home & Aid)
- Mentors Provide Help and Hope to Foster Parents (Children’s Home & Aid)
- Statistics: National Foster Care Month 2022 (Children’s Bureau / Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Factsheets for Families: Partnering with Relatives to Promote Reunification (Children’s Bureau / Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Family Preservation Matters: Why Kinship Care for Black Families, Native American Families, and Other Families of Color is Critical to Preserve Culture and Restore Family Bonds (Juvenile Law Center)