The holidays are upon us. Some may grouse (Bah, Humbug!) about buying gifts, giving gifts and seeing family and friends, but the holidays really are an opportunity to step back from the daily grind, to deepen relations or create new ones, to reflect on what’s happened during the year, to give thanks and, very importantly, to look to the coming year with the hope that life will be even better.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m an optimist, but not so detached from reality that I believe in mystical creatures such as the Tooth Fairy. Clearly this idea was a concept created by parents who didn’t want their kids collecting and trading their teeth with the other kids at school. But I do believe in magic and hope, not the Dr. Strange type of magic or hope where no action is taken, but the hope that things can be better once people take the right actions. When enough people come together for a cause, that can create magic.
So in this vein, I want to celebrate five groups of people and organizations that give hope to hundreds of thousands of foster children each and every year. Because no matter how broken the foster care system is, there is a lot that works well and knowing this gives hope that we can do better for these children.
Foster Parents: Let’s face it. The only time we generally hear about foster parents in the news is when something has gone very badly. Seldom do we hear about the tens of thousands of selfless foster parents who are caring for the children that enter the foster care system. These adults go through a rigorous vetting process that is simply too daunting for others.
While family finding efforts are being executed, children can be placed morning, noon or night with a couple. These foster parents have signed on to take a child into their home who may have serious anger issues, emotional trauma that hasn’t been properly treated or other tendencies such as urinating on the couch, beating other kids, breaking furniture or stealing food and hiding it under their bed. Yet there are couples out there who are willing to take in a child and to do their best to care for and love this child or, as is true for many foster parents, many children.
Dolores Sheets is one such foster parent. She runs her own company, Dolores Sheets Accounting and Tax Specialist, while having cared for many foster children over the years. These adults know that at any minute, the child they have come to love may be taken from them. That’s sacrifice. That’s true love. That’s being a hero, and children sure need more heroes like Dolores in this world.
Case workers: Where to start? Being a case worker has to be a labor of love because these people spend countless hours handling as many as 70 cases. To put this into perspective, education research has revealed time and again that students and teachers in grades K-12 do best with a classroom size of less than 30 children.
Now let’s take that magic number and keep in mind that each case a social worker handles may include several siblings. So even with a case load of 30, a case worker may be dealing with 60 or more children, not to mention the foster parents and the actual parents of the foster children.
Burn out for these professionals is about 70%. There is the emotional toll that case workers have to endure along with management that often does not give them the tools, training or support to do a competent job. So many social workers have contacted our organization for help with a family finding effort just to have management shoot down the idea. How frustrating can that be! Yet people keep joining the ranks of case workers to do their best.
We have been privileged to work with two outstanding professionals with Stanislaus County in California. Lisa Horton Beach and John Yost have gone over and beyond to perform exhaustive family finding to locate parents and other adult relatives. Because of their diligence, more foster children have been placed with their relatives instead of being left to spend years alone in the system.
Judges: These men and women can and often are a primary source of motivation for foster care agencies. Judges can insist on a more extensive family finding effort. We handled a case in North Carolina that was dragging on for weeks because the agency wouldn't respond to our requests for information. Then we received a frantic call from the office because the judge in the case had requested an update on the action being taken. With the threat of the judge bringing the hammer down on the agency, they jumped into action and finally delivered the information we had requested so we could move forward with the family finding.
Our organization succeeded in locating the foster child’s mother and father. The judge in this case helped to bring about a happy outcome for the youth by putting pressure on the agency. Family finding works best when all parties involved work together. Judge (Ret.) Leonard P. Edwards, one of the judges I admire, once said, “It’s my dream that the expanded use of family finding will literally dry up the foster-care system.”
Organizations: The public hears about foster care agencies, but what most people don’t know is that several aspects of foster care are handled by non-profit organizations. Many engage in family finding, and some take to heart the mandate of the Fostering Connections Act to locate a foster child’s adult relatives. One organization that goes the extra mile is Turning Points for Children in Philadelphia. We have handled several of their cases because the organization wants to be thorough in its due diligence. They understand that quality family finding often results in foster children being placed with relatives or adopted. Either way, these children are with loving people and not spending years in a government institution.
Supporters: Millions of individuals and businesses support efforts to improve the lives of foster children. Some are large companies such as Mattress Firm, also known as Sleep Train, the nation's leading specialty bedding retailer. Year round they promote the collection of clothing, shoes and school supplies for needy foster kids. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption focuses on getting foster children adopted. There are business leaders such as Gia Heller, CEO of The Social Media Masters, who is both an adoptive parent and a huge supporter of foster youths.
Artists such as Robert Aragon are ongoing supporters. He is the creator of “A Tiny Teddy Named Cuds,” a children’s book that just won the prestigious Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Picture Book for 4 to 8 year olds. Robert and many artists like him generously provide artwork that helps to increase donations.
Finally there are so many individual supporters such as Tim Barker, father of two and realtor with Regina Flores Ramona Real Estate, Dr. Ulwyn Pierre, a leading international expert on corporate strategy, and Libbe HaLevy, entrepreneur and international talk show host. The contributions from these businesses and individuals allow non-profits, including mine, Forever Homes for Foster Kids, to provide services that directly help foster children.
If you consider the foster care system to be broken, and many politicians, judges and youth experts think that it is, then just imagine how much more difficult life would be for foster children without these individuals and organizations. We truly owe them a debt of gratitude.
As the year winds down, I hope you will take time to reflect on the good that has occurred in your life this year. We all have something for which to be thankful although sometimes it takes some effort to identify what that could be. There are millions of people working and pulling for foster children. Together we can do more to make 2017 the year when fewer children enter foster care and family finding becomes more widespread and the process more thorough resulting in more foster kids being placed with family members. That would be a wonderful gift to give to tens of thousands of foster children next year for the holidays and beyond.