National Foster Care Month: Supporting Foster Families
May is National Foster Care Month. To celebrate foster families and the organizations that support them, we are featuring conversation highlights with two grantees in our Foster Youth strategic initiative: Fedcap and The Children’s Village.
May is National Foster Care Month. To celebrate foster families and the organizations that support them, we are featuring conversation highlights with two grantees in our Foster Youth strategic initiative: Fedcap and The Children’s Village. We recognize that foster families are key to our strategy’s goal of ensuring that foster youth transition to healthy, productive adulthoods.
Who is a caregiver, and what is their significance in the foster care field?
Fedcap: Caregivers, also known as foster parents, are adults licensed by the child welfare system to provide essential care and a nurturing environment to children who need to be removed from their birth homes. Biological relatives of foster children are known as kinship caregivers.
Children’s Village: In our work, a caregiver is a person who has room in their home and love in their heart for a teen in need of care, and who provides a nurturing, supportive environment. The teens we work with often have spent years shuttling in and out of institutions. More than temporary care, they need to experience the true meaning of family.
What drew your organization to work with caregivers of transition-age youth?
Children’s Village: Many of the teens in our care came into the system as young children, and grew up between many homes and facilities. We believe that by providing them with a family that can give them the stable love and guidance they desperately need, we can start them on the road to becoming productive members of our society. Our Foster Parents Partnering with Teens project provides us the opportunity to invest in additional supports that caregivers need when working with teens, like bonding activities and around-the-clock services. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s support allows us to increase recruitment of appropriate caregivers, and provide ongoing, wraparound support to those caregivers who step forward to provide a family experience for teens.
Fedcap: We have known for some time that children who transition from the child welfare system have very poor outcomes when compared to their peers. When trying to understand how to improve the transition to adulthood for foster youth, we became aware of data suggesting that 70% of youth in foster care express a desire to go to college, but less than half graduate from high school, and only 10% enter college. This inspired us to create PrepNOW!™ —a system change initiative that makes going to college and graduating an explicit outcome for foster youth. It includes an interactive, web-based course targeted at caregivers, which helps them to develop practical skills to support youth in their college aspirations.
In ten years, what would you like to see happen for foster families?
Children’s Village: We believe that our model can recruit and train additional caregivers, and retain 90% of teen-friendly foster homes. System-wide, the retention rate for these families is currently less than 40%. We hope to see a high rate of successful graduation from high school among our teens; entry into post-secondary education will be considered the norm.
Fedcap: Since 1980, child welfare has focused on safety, permanence, and well-being. Fedcap would like to see caregivers, and the systems that recruit and train them, structure their role to go beyond safety and meeting basic needs, to actually helping children in their care build a platform to self-sufficiency that includes college attendance and graduation.
What is a moment that resonates with you in your work with caregivers?
Fedcap: When a caregiver says that they themselves are going back to college to “walk the talk,” this has tremendous significance for all the children they care for, now and in the future.
Children’s Village: With our teens, it is not just one moment, it is a series of moments when we witness their life epiphanies—they get the job, they graduate from high school, they get the apartment, they begin to think about college. With the caregivers, it is watching them stand back during a difficult moment with a teen, take a deep breath, and deal with the teenager as if s/he was their own child.
What else should we reflect on during national foster care month?
Fedcap: Caregivers are an incredible resource for young people in foster care. We have to trust that they want the best for the children in their care and support them in achieving their full potential as adults.
Children’s Village: For too long we have focused on system solutions for teens in foster care (more government benefits, more housing, more scholarships). While the system can—and should—do more, our teens most need to experience family and belonging. We need to scale success for all youth through stable, ongoing, supportive relationships.
Want to learn more about becoming a caregiver or mentor for foster youth? Visit FosterMore.
Many thanks to Jeremy Kohomban, Earl Whitted, Jenisette Perez, Johnny Martindale, Sasha Cureton, Lorrie Lutz, Roque Gerald, and Stephanie Serafin for their contributions to this post!