I spent my teenage years in foster care, bouncing around in 14 different placements in two separate counties. In that time, I’ve lived in almost every type of residency: emergency shelters, a homeless shelter, group homes, foster homes, and with kin.
Since emancipation (aging-out), I’ve worked in non-profits and child welfare agencies directly with youth, social workers, lawyers, juvenile court judges, legislators, agency managers and directors. All those jobs introduced me to hundreds of stories of successful and failed placements, kinships, adoptions and reunifications.
Considering my two decades of personal and professional experience in almost all levels of foster care, here’s what I think would help reform the foster care system:
1. Partner up with the Red Cross … or Kevin A. Campbell
I’ve always wondered how displaced families from natural disasters come together and it turns out that the Red Cross has a sophisticated family finding tool in place. Kevin A. Campbell too has developed a family finding model that’s used by the National Institute for Permanent Family Connectedness.
Every child welfare agency and non-profit should have at least one family finding unit and family maintenance unit. If one is already in place, and if successful, double up on the efforts.
2. Investigative Think Tanks
There needs to be a standby resource for journalists who track funding. The idea: Once money is granted to an agency, check in after one year, find out what’s working, what’s not working so far, why, and use the tracking results to inform and alter the program accordingly. Failure is valuable information too.
It’s great that The Fosters, Short Term 12, and a handful of foster care books exist, but in the aggregate, there needs to be a lot more storytelling efforts from the Hollywood community on the subject of foster care.
The more our society is saturated with foster care stories, the more informed the general population will be and the less stigma foster children will have to endure. Recruitment would be a lot easier as a result too.
4. Youth Consultants
Foster youth are consumers of social services. As with any entity, there must be room for feedback. I’m not talking about disenfranchised youth ranting against an unfair system, but rather a thoughtful hiring of youth who can target areas of concern for the agency, answer questions, offer opinions and ideas as well as be educated on the regulatory realities and budget limitations agencies face. (Author’s note: I co-founded this type of program and will devote future posts on this subject of youth voice integration).
5. Parent Trainers
Agencies could benefit from hiring parents (especially fathers) who have reunified with their children to engage parents who have lost their children to the system. If I lost my child to the system, and found myself in a court-appointed class, I would be more inclined to take in information from someone who went through what I was going through.
6. Get Some Mad Men
Appeal to top advertisers to pro-bono or partner with your organization in soliciting donations or ratcheting up parent recruitment efforts.
7. CASA Requirement
All Masters’ of Social Work candidates should be required to become a CASA for at least one semester in their respective programs. It’s one thing to read about caseloads, quite another to get a hands-on education early in their course of study.
Cognizant that these suggestions are broad, at the very least, they can serve as an impetus to another idea.
Additionally, there’s bound to be some variation to any of the above recommendations already in place. If so, I’d like to hear from you and expose your work to our network.
If you think I’m missing something or you have another suggestion, please field your responses below in comments or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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