We often hear the stories of foster families and the children whom they have shared their homes and their lives with. But, behind the scenes, are those who perform the everyday duties in agencies like Stark County JFS. These individuals are vital in protecting children and maximizing their well-being, and they have a unique perspective about the families they work with.
Kim has been working at the agency for six years, spending the majority of her time in the Ongoing Department. She feels it has been a privilege to work with the wonderful families she has throughout her time there, and she could not imagine doing anything else.
Kim remarks on the positive impact she has seen in all individuals who are involved in the foster care process – biological parents, children, and foster families. In her experience, it has been inspiring to see how foster parents have advocated for children in all the various areas of their lives to ensure they can flourish. She states that foster parents have also been important advocates when it comes to keeping sibling groups together. These foster parents have really grasped the positive impact of keeping siblings together, so they have advocated for this and have opened their homes for multiple children. Kim enjoys seeing the relationships that develop between foster parents and biological parents. She believes it assists parents in getting through the process when foster parents show genuine, authentic kindness toward them without asking anything in return. The biggest strength of foster parents, in Kim’s view, is their love for the children they foster. She observes the time and love that these individuals put into fighting for and cheering on the children in their care, and she feels this support and encouragement make a monumental impact. She will never forget those foster parents who never give up. She reminisces about one family who continuously advocated for the child in their care, even when it was difficult, and now, that child is thriving. She states that these foster parents never wavered in their commitment to that child, and to her, that’s what foster care is all about. Through being a caseworker, she has gained experience working with many types of children and families, and her advice for foster families is to show grace and patience. She hopes foster families can show grace to children who are working through their own battles and may not have the words to express their feelings. She also encourages all involved to be patient with caseworkers and understand the many responsibilities they have to juggle in their position.
Lisa has been with SCJFS since October 2005. During her first seven years with the agency, she was an Adoption Worker. In 2011, She was transferred to the Family Resource Department where she worked directly with foster families. Working with foster families has taught her to be more empathetic, a better listener, and stronger advocate. Lisa is a mother to daughter, Anna, who she adopted in 2001. She states this has been her greatest accomplishment in life, and her daughter brings her nothing but joy, peace, and contentment. For fun, she enjoys walking and hiking in beautiful parkers, reading, playing games on her Kindle, photography, hanging out with her three cats, and spending time with her daughter.
Lisa sees the impact of foster care everyday in her line of work. She witnesses parents who make themselves available day or night for placement of a foster child, and she has seen the foster parents foster embrace the children in their care and treat them as their own. In her experience, there have been times where she has seen a malnourished child blossom into a happy, healthy child, and she has observed parents encourage older children to continue loving their parents while also helping them understand why they cannot return to their care just yet. Lisa states she continues to be in awe each times she sees a foster family completely embrace children, birth parents, and extended family members. Lisa has seen foster parents help biological parents in various ways, but one situation that sticks out for her is a foster family who had placement of an infant. These foster parents became very close with the biological father, and they stood by him throughout the entirety of his case. They supported him in the ups and downs of this process, and he was reunified with his daughter. The foster parents are now the godparents of the little girl, and they continue to have contact with her and her father. She tells about another time when there was a teenage boy who had been through several placement and was struggling in many areas of his life. He was placed with a single foster father and soon was telling her stories about what he had learned. In a short amount of time, he had learned to cook, do laundry, fix things around the house, and mow the lawn. Lisa states this foster parent really invested his time and energy into encouraging this young boy, and the other boys in his care, to be independent. She feels foster parents have countless strengths, and she remarks on her immeasurable respect for them. Lisa talks about how parents sacrifice their time for their foster children by making time to meet with caseworkers, transporting children to appointments and visits, and losing sleep over a sick child. Each day, she sees the incredible strength demonstrated by those who choose to become foster parents. Foster parents are also challenged, Lisa reports. They constantly wonder how the case plan is progressing with the birth parents while also preparing children for what lies ahead. She knows that attachment is real and saying goodbye is painful. It can also be difficult when people have preconceived beliefs about birth parents, thinking they are mean or do not care about their children. Lisa states this only describes a very small percentage of individuals, and she strongly encourages foster families to build relationships with birth parents as this is what is best for the child. Lisa’s advice for foster families is to embrace all that fostering entails, the good and the bad. She believes that the fostering journey can be made easier when foster parents open their hearts to the children placed in their care and all that they bring with them, including birth parents. She states, “Nothing is more rewarding than watching my foster families form relationships with the birth family and become their cheerleaders during the reunification process. Not only is a long process, but it’s hard work, and we need families with soft hearts and tough skin.”
Favorite quote: “To make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful or perfect. You just have to care.” -Mandy Hale
Emily has been a Public Adoption Worker with child services for the past five years, and she has been involved with youth in foster care since 2011. During her years in the adoption field, she has worked with birth families, foster families, and adoptive families, and she loves learning things she can pass on to help the families she works with become even stronger, more effective parents.
Emily’s perspective is that good foster parents help make the uncertain experience of foster care less scary for kids placed in the system. She states that a foster parent can create a place where children feel safe and wanted, whether they are waiting for an adoptive family or waiting to go home. This is how foster parents have an impact – they are the stable ground for children when everything around them is changing. She feels that for birth families, foster parents can be the bridge that says, “You work on what you need to—we’ll keep your kids safe for you until they can come home.” When asked about her experiences where foster parents have helped children and parents, she states the most memorable ones have been where foster parents have seen behaviors in children and looked past the “what” to ask “why.” She thinks back to a time when a teenager was placed in several homes before landing with one foster parent who saw the child’s behaviors and asked, “What is this child trying to tell me?” She made it her mission to fill that teenager’s emotional tank and make sure she knew she was loved and valued. Two years later, the foster parent was a guest at the teenager’s adoption by her forever family. Emily reports that the best foster parents she has known have been the ones who remember that every kid is an individual with a personal story and unique needs. It can be easy to take a behavior personally or be frustrated because one child in a home doesn’t respond the same way as the others. She says it is good for foster parents to remember that every child can teach something new. She encourages families interested in fostering to consider their family “culture” and be honest with themselves about their strengths, needs, and what helps them be the best parents. Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are kids! Her advice for foster parents is for them to identify their own abilities as parents as this is a great first step to being able to love and help the children placed in their home. She states that it is also important for foster parents to know warning signs for when they’re stressed or tired. Much like an oxygen mask on an airplane, Emily feels foster parents should be meeting their own needs, so they can be there when the children in their home need them.
Katie states that foster parents are truly a blessing and are under appreciated by many. As a family resource worker, she has seen foster care impact the lives of children time and time again. She has observed children grow, thrive, and heal from their past trauma with the help and support they receive from their foster caregivers. Any child that comes into care, regardless of age, has experienced trauma and significant loss. With the understanding and patience of foster parents, these children learn structure, routine, and stability. Often additional supports are needed through medical appointments, counseling, and therapies. She states that foster parents work with many different professionals to meet the needs of the children in their care, and this is not always easy. Katie feels they do this because watching a child overcome adversity is worth it. As foster parents care for their foster children day in and day out, Katie states the biggest strengths they can portray are empathy and patience. It can help them to remember that the children are experiencing a loss and will not automatically be grateful for the foster family. Katie feels that those parents who advocate for the children in their care by seeking community resources will be most successful as children come into foster care with trauma, delays, behavioral problems and medical issues. In any situation, there are challenges. Working with the agency is always something foster parents say is their biggest challenge, Katie reports. Remembering that the agency’s goals are reunification and placement with kinship is a must. Adoption is only the last resort when the first two goals are unable to be met. Being a foster parent is an emotional roller coaster, and many times a challenge of foster parents can be managing their own agenda. Loving a child as their own but letting them go as if they aren’t is a challenge numerous families experience. Many foster parents have told Katie that it’s not the loving or caring for the children that is the hard part; It’s the unknown. Katie feels foster parents can be encouraged and supported by those who work at SCJFS. In her experience, many people come into foster care wanting to take placement of a baby as they are hesitant of older children. She tells the story of a family who she encouraged to take respite of a school-aged child. She states they agreed, although they had reservations. The respite went wonderfully, despite all the concerns that were reported from the child’s foster family at the time. The foster family soon realized that school-aged children are not awful, unlovable, scary children. The foster family quickly changed their acceptance criteria and welcomed that school-aged child into their home and ended up adopting him. Katie encourages relationships between foster families and birth parents. She understands that this can be a struggle for some birth families due to fear, but in her experiences, the ones who overcome the awkwardness of building that relationship are the ones who thrive. She has seen foster parents work hand in hand with birth parents and support them through their case plan services. She has seen these foster families help birth parents with the reunification process and continue to support the birth family once the child has returned home. She states that children, regardless of the abuse and neglect they have endured, always long to be with their birth families, so it’s important for foster parents to recognize the importance of the child-birth family relationship. She states the SCJFS utilizes “Our Family Wizard” which is a monitored and secure program that allows foster parents and birth parents to communicate. Foster parents that send regular pictures and updates though “Our Family Wizard” build a closer relationship with birth parents than those who do not. Katie hopes foster parents know that no matter how long or short of a time a child is in their home, they are making a difference. She wants foster families to understand that they do not need to be perfect, rich, or married as families come in all different shapes and sizes. And, she hopes to educate those wanting to become foster parents on working with birth families, fostering school-aged children, and keeping sibling connected.
Favorite quote: “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” – Dr. Suess