Good things are happening on the hill regarding foster children and those taking care of them.
Last month, I was invited to participate on a White House panel exploring ways to prevent children from entering, or re-entering, foster care. I have great empathy and respect for the many, many grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members who step up–whether they do so in, or out, of ‘the system’.
My thoughts are simple. Give families the help they need, when they need it. Don’t ask them to sit in trainings that don’t apply, or be bogged down with regulations that are helpful in keeping kids in “traditional” foster care safe, but are an unnecessary expense–and barrier–for keeping siblings together. At the same time give kids, and caregivers (hate that term, but there you go) the life-skills needed sothey can get back to being self sufficient, independent, and happy families.
The deal is, most families need a little more help when things first go wrong and then just a boost if something pops up later. For some grandparents who take over parenting (often due to their adult child being an alcoholic or drug user) it may be financial, for others it’s counseling for kids, and for some access to a lawyer who can help them become guardians or adoptive parents. At the DC event child care agency leaders, family court judges, and multiple members of the Navajo Nation among others, emphasized that the needs, and timing, are different for every family. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a babysitter for two hours, and other times, as complex as providing medical, academic and life skills for a medically fragile infant who grows into a medically fragile adult–while their caregivers grow old…and then elderly.
I adopted my grandson, Chad, who is now rock solid and a typical 23-year-old, but he could easily have become another suicide, or prison, statistic if not for counseling at four critical junctions in his life:
-At age two, when he first came into foster care after a four-hour beating because he wouldn’t eat, by my daughter who was involved with drugs.
-Age four, when returned to my care after eight months with his birth father who, pre-placement, had been identified with anger and alcohol issues. Post-return Chad was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress when the term was hardly known.
-In fifth grade when he hated his dad, and was constantly angry. One session, with his old counselor, who knew Chad and who he liked and trusted, turned him around when she told him life is a puzzle and the pieces we each pick, or reject, form us. She helped him identify what was good, and bad, in his birth parents, and what he wanted for himself.
-As a freshman Chad became suicidal and started cutting. I learned, that unknown to me, Chad had had frequent phone conversations with his birth mom. When she relapsed, after years of sobriety, he became obsessed with death. Counseling taught both Chad and I that depression often masks fear, anger, and other emotions. It allowed us to share things we might not have otherwise said, and gave us the skills to communicate more effectively going forward.
The first counseling sessions were paid for by foster and title four services, the last two by myself. When Chad became suicidal, I called Oregon Post Adoption Resources, looking only for the name of a counselor who successfully helped other families like ours. They couldn’t legally tell me because Chad hadn’t been adopted directly out of state care, but subsequently, after I watched my daughter spiral out-of-control. As an author and speaker, working with grandparents parenting grandkids, I was blessed to have alternative connections and the financial resources (although my IRA was seriously tapped into) that many others do not.
Every family does have different problems, timelines, and breaking points. While some families continue to need the longer support that comes with being a licensed kinship or foster provider, many want, and need, only targeted information, or help. Kudos to the dedicated people at organizations like Generations United, on whose Grandfamily Advisory Board I participate, and Casey Family Programs who work endlessly, without a lot of public recognition, to bring the issues and solutions to the attention of lawmakers, who in turn, make life better for families when they are most vulnerable.