by Lanitta Berry and Erica Burgess
Perspectives from a Child Welfare Professional and an Adult with Lived Experience in the Foster Care System
Erica: Placement stability for youth who are experiencing the foster care system is a major priority for North Carolina child welfare stakeholders. There is an emphasis on placement stability because the more moves a youth has, the more detached they become from their family, community, culture, and goals become harder to obtain. As resource parents, you can do your part to prevent disruptions by being prepared from day one of a new placement so you can feel confident in meeting the needs of the youth placed in your home. It is important that you take some time to prepare yourself, family, home, and community for each placement before they enter your home. Each youth and their circumstances will vary greatly, so take the time to think through what you will need to make this experience successful for you, the youth, and their family.
Things to consider before each new placement:
- Do you have the space in your home ready
to welcome a new placement?
- Is your support team ready to step in? Think
about who will be there to support you.
- Have you adjusted your work or personal schedule to allow time for the additional appointments and activities that the youth
- Have you researched childcare options based on the age of the child or youth you will be caring for? Will you need daycare or before/after school care?
- Are you familiar with the medical, dental, or mental health providers in your area that accept Medicaid?
- Have you prepared a list of questions that you need to ask the youth’s social worker to ensure you can meet their unique needs? Ask questions about school, physical and mental health needs, visitation, permanency plans, the youth’s likes or dislikes, religious practices, etc.
Remember, when youth are removed from their homes it’s a chaotic event for everyone. It may feel hard to receive answers to all of your questions, but still necessary to have as much information as possible to make informed decisions. Having key information upfront can decrease the possibility of later disruption. It’s very unfortunate, but there are times when youth are moved from a foster or kinship home due to a scheduling or childcare issue that could have been resolved prior to the youth moving in.
Lanitta: Another area to thoroughly assess prior to a youth moving in your home are your own personal biases. When we operate with bias, it can make others feel like they are not being seen for their true selves. When a youth feels they are being stereotyped, it can lead to a negative environment that can make it very difficult to form a trusting relationship. This is a recipe for disruption. It is important that all resource parents check their biases prior to a youth moving in their home.
To combat personal bias, consider trying the following strategies:
- Internal self-reflection about your thoughts and beliefs
- Expose yourself to various people and cultures
- Challenge your own irrational beliefs
- Think empathetically and respond genuinely
Erica: Once you feel comfortable accepting the youth in your home, the next step would be preparing for day one. The first day really sets the tone for the relationship you desire to build. This day may feel overwhelming but make sure to focus on the youth while figuring out logistics. Many logistics can be taken care of prior to the youth’s arrival. When the youth walks through your door your focus should be on them. It will be scary moving to a new home so ensuring the youth feels safe, supported, and comfortable from day one is essential. Having a welcoming space that incorporates age appropriate items can help youth feel at ease. Some resource parents may have a welcome basket with hygiene items, books, snacks etc. while others may choose to write a personal letter to welcome the child into the home.
Often when a youth arrives at your home they may have questions about their parents, school, friends, siblings or other relatives. You may not have all the answers they are looking for, but remember to follow up on the other questions with their social worker as soon as you can. Helping a youth get answers to their questions is an important part to building your relationship and demonstrating you are a caring and trustworthy adult. Lastly, be patient and understanding. The youth is likely much more overwhelmed than you are.
Lanitta: As a former foster youth, it was challenging for me to navigate being placed in foster care with my daughter while trying to look towards the future. There were times when I felt like I did not matter and did not have any say over the trajectory of my life. What made it easier was having a trusted adult in my corner while nurturing and aiding in my emotional and physical development. My first foster mom bonded with me and my daughter from day one by treating us like “family.” She asked simple questions about my likes, dislikes, and experiences to get to know me. This led to many great conversations which created a long lasting connection. The whole experience of being in care with her taught me the power of choosing your own definition of family and who gets to be a part of it. I felt comfortable in her home because she taught me how to overcome obstacles in my path.
Erica: You will quickly realize that as a caregiver you will experience the highs and lows of parenting. At first, many resource parents experience a “honeymoon period.”This typically lasts for a few weeks or months. During the honeymoon period things may seem stable. Just keep in mind that this period will likely diminish as you begin to set your routine, rules and expectations. This is normal, and although it can be unpleasant to transition out of the honeymoon period, it is bound to happen. To help prepare you for the more challenging times and support the youth, consider the following:
- Ensure you have the training you need to meet their needs and seek out additional training if needed. FosteringNC.org and Foster Family Alliance both have ongoing training to support resource parents. Foster Family Alliance also has support groups in each region.
- Understand developmental milestones for the youth in your care. Understanding “typical” development can help prepare you for what to expect.
- Take an individualized approach to each youth in your home.
- Become and remain trauma informed and parent with a trauma lens.To learn more be sure to read the article on page 6 about Resource Parent Curriculum.
- Help the youth stay connected to their family and culture.
- Address any of your safety concerns early on. Don’t hesitate to report any behaviors that may be concerning to you.
- Report any concerns or issues that you are having with your social worker and advocate for services. Services that can often be helpful are individual therapy, family therapy, trauma focused therapy, occupational therapy, educational supports, and medication management to name a few.
- Work in partnership with your team including birth parents, other relatives, social workers, medical providers, mental health providers, guardians ad litem, and the youth.
- Listen to the youth and incorporate their voice. Engaging them in enrichment activities can be just as therapeutic as enrolling them in a paid service. For example: sports, art classes, music, youth groups, etc.
- Take time for yourself. Regular breaks or respite will help to promote your own self-care and allow you the time and space you need to continue providing quality care.
Lanitta: Growing up in care was never “easy,” but I was eventually able to find a sense of “normal” with my first foster mom. We both came to an understanding. We were both experiencing something new. For me, it was being a mother and being in my first foster home. For her, it was the first time having youth in her home. Since we were both in new situations we had an understanding that we had to be patient with one another.
Something I remember seeing that helped me was her vulnerability. When you are in foster care, it feels like adults have all the information which can cause an unfair power dynamic. I knew my foster mom was vulnerable with me and in return I started to open up more and allowed myself to be a part of her family. I was able to participate in activities with her like outings, trips, going to movies, and traveling to her hometown.
This helped me feel safe and normal in her home and led to me living with for the majority of my time in care. She taught me skills that helped me transition to independent living when I turned 18 years old. After turning 18, I began my journey of graduating high school and starting higher education while maintaining transportation, employment, and housing. The fundamentals of my success today can be traced back to the relationship with my foster mom and the skills she taught me to live independently.
Erica: There are situations that will arise where disruption is inevitable due to circumstances outside of your control. If a situation arises where a youth needs to leave your care it is important that you think through your approach. Often, disruptions occur quickly and can be very challenging for everyone. If a child or youth can no longer remain in your home it is necessary to allow the social worker time to find another appropriate home. Some agencies ask for a 14 or 30 day notice and resource parents should respect this request unless there is a safety concern. During this time you can support the team by giving suggestions about treatment services, sharing about the youth’s preferences, and offering to speak to the new caregiver. Resource parents need to show youth they have their best interest in mind, and that starts from day one, and doesn’t have an end date.
Lanitta Berry is a Child Welfare and Business Administration Consultant with lived experience in the foster care system
Erica Burgess is the owner of the Burgess Consultative Group