Friday, November 8, 2013

Foster Focus: Re-Envisioning Foster Care

Stay Home.
Go Home.
Find Home.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a Working Group Gathering of the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America (REFCA) Movement. It was an inspiring experience. The combination of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to helping vulnerable children that I encountered there was truly exhilarating. The above six words were shared as part of a presentation by Lauren Frey, founder of 3P Consulting LLC, and they constitute just part of what excited me about this gathering.

Here's how I understood the intention of those six words as they relate to child welfare: Stay Home highlights the importance of helping vulnerable families early on, providing resources and services to help children thrive in their original homes, thus preventing the need for the child's separation from the original family. Go Home focuses on the need for interventions to strengthen families when a disruption or crisis occurs, with the goal of reuniting children with their original families while also prioritizing the child's safety and well-being. Find Home acknowledges that sometimes the original family is not able to provide a safe environment in which the child can thrive, even with interventions, and then the focus must shift to finding the child a new permanent home in a stable and loving family, while also continuing to honor the child's ongoing connection to the original family.

As an adoptee (and foster-adoptive parent in a very open adoption), it warmed my heart to hear a number of different people at this meeting speak to the importance of original family and heritage. The sacredness of the connection to the family of origin, whether we are raised in that family or not, was honored in various ways throughout the morning. I was also encouraged by the wide range of approaches to child welfare. This month (National Adoption Awareness Month) is a time when many people are turning their attention to the needs of the high numbers of children in foster care who are awaiting adoption. That need is urgent, but adoption is not the only way to help our society's vulnerable children, nor is it the only way for individuals to get involved.

At the REFCA gathering, I heard people talking about ways to better support children in the crucial early developmental years as well as strategies to improve the outcomes for those on the other end of the spectrum, young people age 18 and older who are transitioning into adulthood and increased independence while still needing family and a place to call home. I heard people talking about mentorship and other ways to engage supportively with youth at various stages of their journey. I heard talk of the need for better education of therapists, teachers, parents, and others about trauma and the complex emotional needs of children being raised in families other than their families of birth.

Participants ranged from foster/adoptive parents such as myself to a host of child-welfare professionals, including social workers, legal professionals, therapists, and more. No single idea was held as the sole solution; rather, each vision was explored as a possible part of the whole. It was big-picture thinking with a collaborative approach to social change. Perhaps most importantly, no one was saying, "It can't be done." Everyone was saying, "How do we do it?" What needs to be done to better serve these children and youth? How do we identify what works and build on that while also exploring new and creative approaches? How can we improve?

At one point, I heard some one use the phrase "a culture of possibility." That is indeed an apt description of what was being created through the various conversations and collaborations happening at this gathering!  

The REFCA Initiative was started in 2010 by the Friends of Children, The Rudd Adoption Research Program at UMass Amherst, and The Treehouse Foundation. You can learn more about the movement by visiting their website or facebook page.

Is there something inspiring happening in the field of child welfare in your local region? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Please leave a comment and let me know.