So, as I alluded to in this post a couple days ago, I am working on taking steps towards fully living out my beliefs and values surrounding supporting children and families. I am sure it will be an ongoing process - probably life long! But for now I want to share with you about a big step I am taking in my life.
As I mentioned before, foster care has always been a passion of mine. I returned to working in a foster care program because I believe that these children are at the highest point of crisis. Foster care is the "last chance" for families to stay together - but many have already gone past the point of no return when the state steps in to this degree. Once it has gotten to the stage of having your children removed - many parents believe they have already failed and give up completely. Others try to turn their situations around, but lets face it - the system is huge and confusing and overwhelming and takes FOREVER. And what about the children? I have seen and read countless stories of traumatized children in foster care. Yes, some were traumatized by the things that happened in their parents' care. But so many more had that initial trauma doubled, tripled, or immeasurably compounded by their experiences in foster care.
I know that it is necessary, but that does not make it good for every child.
I have always intended to be a foster parent at some point in my life. I always said I would be a "final stop" for children - hopefully before they returned home, but open to adoption if the need arose. It has been a desire of mine forever and I have been trying to work towards it for the past couple years. Unfortunately, I'm just not quite there yet. I don't yet have all the resources to be the kind of foster parent I want to be - so I have held off.
But then another option came to my attention.
There is an organization in my area whose mission is building communities to support healthy families. Their purpose is to give parents the time, resources, and support to turn their situations around without the risk of losing their children. The program is completely voluntary - parents are referred through various ways but can not be mandated to participate. The agency provides a "coach" to work along side the parents in meeting their goals. They do this in a number of ways, but one of the ways is by providing an alternative to foster care through Resource Families (RF).
A resource family is made available for parents who need a temporary place for their children to be while they get things in order. It may be a parent who needs drug treatment or who is homeless and doesn't want or can not have their child stay with them. It may be a parent who is sick and needs hospitalization or medical treatment and can not care for their child temporarily. It may be a parent who is experiencing a personal crisis and simply needs time to seek help - and a safe place for their child. (Occasionally it may also be an older child who is struggling with their family - the RF may be a preventative step against lockouts and runaways.)
The parent retains custody and all rights to their child - the agreement is purely voluntary and can be revoked by the parent at any time. The placement is intended to be short term - 90 days at most. The Resource Family receives no payment - it is a purely volunteer arrangement.
The program is built on two Bible verses:
1) James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the widow and the orphan" (Interesting given how often I just talked about my feeling about how others apply this verse!)
2) Mark 4:1-9 "The Parable of the Sower" - The short version is that a sower scatters seeds in a variety of places - rocky places, thorny brush, and fertile soil. Some seeds never produced a crop, some produced some but withered quickly, and some grew strong and multiplied. This verse is simply given to Resource Families as a way help them understand that their role should be given as a service - not taken up as a crusade. Some of the parents will change their circumstances for the better, some will also relapse or return to previous situations, others will not be able to make changes at all during the time they are in the program.
The organization wants to be respectful of every person's right to self determination and wants Resource Families to understand their role in this process as well. The hope and intent of the program is that RFs be not just a safe place for the child, but a support to their parents. Resource Families must meet with the parents and continued contact is established. Resource Families are highly encouraged to invite the parents to church and community events - hoping to build those connections and support to sustain the parents and children after they leave the program.
I believe this agency's mission and values align perfectly with my own. So, a couple of weeks ago I called them and they arranged for a time for one of their social workers to come out to my house to meet with me.
Talk about a completely surreal experience for me!
But I'm excited to share the process with you! More to come soon!