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After completing my college education and at the onset of my career, I believed that my role was key to kids making it in life. It was not so much an arrogant approach but rather a simple ignorance. With my experience as a counselor with the State of Washington and a probation monitor with Kitsap County, my contact with children was brief. As I began to work with Youth for Christ foster parents, I realized that real change and impact for children is made within the family. It was deflating to my ego, but it really made me think about my priorities. This is when I knew the direction I wanted to go.
In 2000, Community and Family Services Foundation was formed. When the opportunity came to break out on my own, I had a good idea on how I wanted to structure the agency. Initially I thought it important to stay small, with 25 homes or so. I did not want to become large and insensitive to the needs of foster parents. The staying small part of my plan did not work out, but remaining grounded in the care of foster parents is still our driving force. This has always been my prayer.
With this realization that foster parents are key to children thriving, it became imperative that the staff we hire carry this same belief. Recognizing our ability to transform children is only met when foster parents thrive. This is not easy for all workers to grasp. If, as a social worker, you somehow get your needs met by enmeshing with children on your caseload, it not only limits foster parents effectiveness, it also promotes an unnatural bond.
A quick comparison can be made when thinking back on our own lives. As a child, I
had a limited number of adults involved in my life … mom and dad, some aunts and
uncles, and perhaps a youth pastor and sports coach or two. Foster children
today may have a social worker, case manager, GAL/CASA, attorney, therapist,
foster parent(s), bio family, case aide, etc. While all of these adults are necessary and
well-meaning, it can be quite confusing for the child.
We at CFSF are here to support you. But, as I’ve learned over the years, our support must come from behind the scenes. We are here to help make your life as a foster parent as normal as possible and let that extend into the lives of the children in your care. We will work to arrange respite, case aide support, interface with social workers, pay you on time and properly, arrange visitation services, ensure you are respected by the social work team, etc.
While CFSF does have periodic activities for foster families (bowling, Christmas parties, summer activities), this is not a mainstay of our agency. Although it is important to come together and enjoy the company of each other, CFSF will never be a substitute for family. You, as foster parents, are able to connect children to your church, extended family, friends, clubs, sports, etc. and allow them to form natural bonds.
Working behind the scenes is not an ego builder, but seeing the outcomes brings us great joy. I have often said that when kids are adopted or move on to permanency and the years go by, I hope they don’t even remember we exist. In other words, if we can normalize kids within your family, reinforcing you as parent, we have done a good thing.
Since we encourage family, we will look to you to resolve issues. We will not always come riding in on a white horse to save the day. We believe a problem solved within a family is far more productive for children than when an agency is seen as the primary problem solver. With this said, we NEVER want you to hide issues that need to be reported. We are about supporting foster families and allowing them to have their own unique parenting style as long as it is within WAC guidelines.
So as we move into the future, with God’s grace and guidance, we must be mindful of both our role and your role. We will always strive to be honest and straight forward with you. If issues arise we will come to you first. We will always work with you and for you and, in return, we know that you will do likewise for the children placed in your care.
In closing I want to thank you all for becoming foster parents. I truly believe being a foster parent is the highest calling. It is a wonderful thing to bring in children you don’t know and give them love, safety, and a nurturing home … children who often times come to you in rough shape with more than challenging behaviors. I am very proud to join with you in helping children in need.
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