But Wait! There’s More

Well, this might be the latest I’ve ever posted to my blog. I’m going to count that as a win because I’ve been at this internship for 8-ish weeks and next week is the last. I thought this might happen a lot more often.

I’m sure you’re wondering what I have in store for this next to last post. Spoilers but next week is going to be a reflection of my time at DSS so this week is my last information based post. My makeshift nest is in Foster Care still and let me tell you, I could have written for the full nine weeks about foster care and still not been able to cover everything. Foster Care has a lot going on and my FC supervisor made a comment some time ago that there’s always something someone can do to help out and that’s the inspiration for this blog post.

Maybe you read “Who Wants to Be a Foster Parent” and thought it was a worthy cause but foster parenting didn’t play to your strengths or any other reason (your reasons are your own and are valid) but you still would really like to help these kids out. Great! There are ways you can do that.

Do you like planning parties/are you good at planning parties/do you have space for some fun event like a party?

If you answered yes, then you can help out foster kids. I know that in Orange (and I’m sure in most counties) the foster care workers like to have parties or fun events for the kids to participate in every few months. In fact, just yesterday we took foster kids and their families to the Orange County Fair but we couldn’t have done it without a group generously donating tickets (shout out to Crazy Pets Club). It’s really hard to find time to plan a party and contact families and find a space for it AND provide food AND get everybody there. Or if it’s not a party, it’s hard to find an activity that is affordable and a large amount of the foster kids can go to. If you would like to do something nice for foster kids and help out a foster care worker, plan a party or donate a space or donate some food for an event or donate some tickets to an event you’re already having. This may seem like a strange way to help, but events like these show that it’s not just the department that cares about these kids but also their communities.

Are you a part of a large organization like a club or a church/are you good at things like clothing and food drives/are you super organized?

This is another great way to help out. Donations from large groups of any variety are a blessing for foster care workers. Yes, certain amounts of money are set away to provide kids with clothes and toiletries but having the right things on hand at the right time can be a challenge. If you want to set up a clothing and toiletries drive with a group you are a part of in order to make the transition for kids a little easier, I highly recommend looking into it. They need basics like shirts, pants, socks, and underwear but sometimes people don’t think about winter clothes until it’s already cold. Stock up on coats, gloves, hats, and scarves. Donate shoes! Find clothes in all sizes (most kids in foster care are over the age of 8 so keep that in mind). If you’re looking at toiletries diapers are always appreciated as are soaps, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. And in an effort to make a FC worker’s life a little easier if you could have things organized by what they are that would be amazing. The last thing I have to write in this section is the biggest so I want people to pay attention: DONATE CLOTH TOTE BAGS. I hear you asking why. Well, these bags are often a new start for these kids. They’ve just been moved out of their homes with their biological parents and a lot of the time, if they have anything, their stuff comes in trash bags. There is nothing more upsetting or demoralizing than leaving your home and having your things treated like trash so we do everything we can to make sure they have a real bag to put their clothes and toys in and the more bags we have, the better.

Do you want to donate your time or space but you aren’t really a party person?

Here’s what you can do: babysitting and support groups. Kids in foster care are only allowed to be looked after by people that have been approved by DSS so sometimes it’s really hard to find someone to babysit if you’re a foster parent. Additionally, sometimes as a foster parent you need to get advice from other foster parents and take some time to decompress. Support groups are great for foster parents and many areas like Orange would like to implement them but they need space and babysitters for foster kids. If you want to help out these foster parents for a few hours a month by getting background checked out to babysit or by donating some space, then that’s a very simple way you can have a huge impact.

Do you have desktop publishing skills/would you want to write up a newsletter?

If you said yes, then you might be volunteering to do most of the battle of a foster care worker (as my supervisor says). Most of the issue with getting a community involved with the foster care system is being able to advertise well. The first thing my FC supervisor had me do when I came in was make some fliers for a training and come up with a brochure to give out at the front desk and around town. It was something simple for me to do that didn’t take more than 10 or so minutes of my time and now there’s a vehicle for people in town to have information about what’s going on at the foster care branch of DSS. A great way to get involved with foster care and then get the people in your community involved is to call your local DSS and say “Hey, do you have someone making your fliers? Could I take some of that off your hands?” or “I own a printing and copying business. I’m passionate about helping foster children, so I’d like to donate 100 free copies of your next brochure.” Anything along those lines just helps spread the word even farther and allows more people to help out.

 

Those were all of the major ways my FC supervisor told me people could help out without being foster parents. I’m sure there are plenty of other location specific ways you can help your town’s foster care workers. Simply making a phone call and sticking to a commitment can make a world of difference.

More next week!

Sadie

Hold on Boys/Girls/Friends Outside the Binary

Like I mentioned last week, I’m officially relegated to Foster-Care-Land which means the rest of my posts may have distinct foster care flavor to them. This week I went to a PRIDE foster care parent training (I would have gone to two but I had a very serious traffic problem in which I found myself on a road that just ended with no way around construction). At this training, there was a lot of discussion of how things have changed across this training and how now there should be a discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation. I thought, “Well great! I’m glad we’re talking about it! Foster parents are supposed to take in all kids regardless and they should have tools to know how to be respectful of who a child is no matter their age.”

That’s not exactly what happened.

Now, I get that these trainings have a lot to cover and it may seem more pertinent to teach someone how to handle a crisis situation where a child has experienced very serious trauma physically and mentally than to talk to potential parents about pronouns. I also get that more mental trauma can be created when when a child feels like who they are is not respected by the authorities in their lives. There are 4 online sessions that last 3 hours apiece and 5 in-person sessions that last 3 hours apiece so I think that somewhere in there could be a slightly more thorough explanation of gender and sexuality.

I’d like to provide potential foster parents with more accurate terminology than I saw in the training just to give this information a bit more of a nudge into gender studies territory.

  1. Sex and Gender are not synonyms. Sex typically refers to the biology of a person (genitals, hormones, chromosomes, etc.) and can be described using terms like male/female/intersex. Gender is the psychological element of a person or how they describe themselves and terms like woman/man/agender/genderqueer/third gender/bigender/polygender and many others can be used. You may not need to know these variations for every kid you encounter but if a kid tells you they are one gender or another, you should learn something about it.
  2. Gender and Gender Identity are synonyms. The training I went to used gender when they should have said sex and gender identity in the place of gender which isn’t really accurate. Using terms in this way suggests that a child is really one thing even though they identify as something else which can be harmful to the child and how they perceive themselves and their relationship(s) with their foster parent(s) in the long run. A child is not a boy who thinks he is a girl. A child is not even a boy who identifies as a girl. This example child is a girl who was assigned male at birth. Who a child is and who they think they are is the same thing. Remember, they probably know themselves better than anyone else could.
  3. Just because your foster child is young does not mean they don’t know. If you’ve got a kid who can form coherent sentences, then they know. The ability to understand your own gender develops around age 3. While interacting with other children, your foster child may have some sense of who they are attracted to (most likely in the context of holding hands or spending extra time with playing). Some kids don’t know until later because it just hits them later or they don’t learn the word for who they are for a long time but some kids just know and they know early. So don’t think because you’ve gotten a 4 year old girl that she won’t tell you he’s a boy. And don’t think that because you’ve got an 8 year old girl that she won’t tell you she has a crush on another girl and maybe a boy at the same time. And just because your foster kid is still in elementary school doesn’t mean they won’t come home one day and say they don’t really feel like a boy or a girl. Kids are people and they know these things about themselves.
  4. Just be respectful. If a kid is in your care, they’ve already suffered some trauma. They don’t need any more trauma caused by someone being disrespectful of their gender or sexuality, especially since you’re supposed to be taking care of them, nurturing them, and loving them. The previous trauma could be related to their guardian’s responses to their gender or sexuality so keep that in mind. Questions aren’t inherently bad, especially if you’re really trying to learn about who this child is and how you can best support them. Pointed questions that are really just ways of trying to convince them they’re wrong are bad. Don’t do that. Be better than that. Just know that this is their body, their identity, their life and they are the expert on who they are just like you are the expert on who you are. And for the love of all that is decent in the world, do not complain if the child uses a word that you don’t know. Don’t tell them how you’re going to screw up because the world is changing too fast for you and people are just making up words nowadays to feel special. What that says to a child is that who they are does not matter enough to you to be respectful to them. You would rather not change than support their understanding of themselves. Like I said, they have already sustained trauma and have been hurt and disappointed by adults, they don’t need any more of that.
  5. IT DOES NOT MATTER IF THEY CHANGE THEIR MINDS. I wish I could make that last statement flash in neon. People change all the time! They grow and learn and make decisions. Those decisions about who they are are right for them at the time. That doesn’t mean they were wrong, it just means they’ve changed. If they change their hair, it will grow back. If they stop liking their clothes, they can get new ones. If they find a word that better describes their sexuality than before, you should support them and use that word. They can go off of one kind of hormone and supplement others. And, yes, they can even go back on surgeries if that’s something they want. It has happened before. Some of these issues you may never have to encounter because of a lack of funds or insurance issues or rules from medical people about procedures on minors but know that when your foster child is willing and able to make these decisions for themselves that they know what is best for who they are.

So, I think these 5 points sum up the major things I would want foster parents to know about gender and sexual orientation that I feel weren’t really talked about in the training. My foster care supervisor at DSS wants me to talk about these points at the next training session to kind of make up for it. I think it’s important to be up to date on any sort of information that can help kids flourish and so does she, which is why she’s more than happy to have me share what I’ve learned through GSWS. We’re a more open society now, so I think we should be able to talk about gender and sexuality especially with kids. They need that kind of information so they aren’t blindly going through changes and feeling scared to ask questions. I want to be a resource for kids and I really want to let these families know how to be respectful of what kids know and who they are because it’s really that simple.

I hope this post has been helpful to someone. It’s another that means a lot to me. I’ve only got two more weeks left at the DSS so that means only two more posts.

More next week!

Who wants to be a foster parent?

That’s not the new title of a game show but it is an honest question. I think I may want to be one in the next few years and I think anyone interested in being a foster parent should know all they can about it. I personally have gone through various mentalities about my relationship to children and, like I hopefully conveyed in my LARC post, the decision to have children should and can be a well-informed one and foster parenting seems like the definition of informed parenting. I’d like to thank Bettina Judd for being the first person to make me seriously question whether I want to have children and why, because for a while my thoughts on childbearing were “It’ll probably happen” which is not overly thoughtful. If you want thoughtful then let someone screen you in a multitude of ways to determine if you’d be good at caring for kids who really need someone. Foster parenting just seems like a great idea for someone like me, there is always a need for foster parents, and it’s a great way to serve your community.

So what would I need to do?
Well, luckily I’ve been working with foster care at DSS and I can answer that question. Recently, I helped our foster care worker make a pamphlet on becoming a foster parent and I’m registered for a training session on foster parenting. Here’s the inside of the brochure I helped make:

 

brochure

You can see some of the frequently asked questions and a fairly thorough list of what is necessary to become a foster parent. As always, if you have more questions, it’s a great idea to call your local DSS and get in touch with a foster care worker.

Who does foster care help?

That’s a pretty broad question. Technically it helps anyone involved in foster care. Foster parents help kids that are taken into care, they help parents that need time to make some corrections in order to get their kids back, and they help foster care workers by being available. I’m going to go the statistics route for this question. So in America as of 2014 there were 415,129 children in foster care. In Virginia specifically (where I am and where the DSS I where I’m working is located), there were 4,597 children in foster care. 238,230 children exited the foster care system in 2014 and 51% of them were reunited with parents or primary caretakers while 21% of them were adopted. About 46% of the children in the foster care system in 2014 were in non-relative foster family homes. The median age of the children in foster care in 2014 was around 8 years old. Approximately 42% of these children were White, roughly 24% were African American, and nearly 22% were Hispanic. Around 52% of the children were male and 48% were female. So there’s the big picture on demographics.

Well then, who needs the most help and how do I help them?

Okay that’s more specific. You can see from the brochure I attached that you can make some choices about what kids you take in (age-wise but if you applied to be a foster parent you signed a document saying you would not discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or ability so keep that in mind) but there are populations that have greater needs than others. Like the brochure said, kids between 11 and 16, sibling groups, and teen moms need the most help. You might be wondering why they need more help. Well, the teen age bracket can be hard to place because of the kinds of trauma these kids have endured and their reactions to such trauma. Additionally, foster families may be more inclined to take in younger children because they have biological children of a similar age. If you think you could make a great home for a teenager in the foster care system then make that known. Placing sibling groups may be difficult in terms of space foster families may have. If you think you could have room for five (or however many) siblings then I highly suggest going for it because it is better for the children emotionally if they all stay together. And teen moms may have difficulty in placement because a family member may wish to take their child in but may not want to take them in as well. Keeping the mother and child together is beneficial in the same way keeping siblings together is beneficial in addition to allowing the teen to learn about parenting their own child. This would be a great thing to take on for any potential foster parent who thinks they would be good with any age group. Foster parents may lack space or resources for certain groups (like not having a home with access for a child who is wheelchair bound or not having enough beds for all of the siblings in a family) but having people that are willing and able to take on any one of these groups is invaluable and, as always, DSS will do everything to help you take care of these kids.

But Sadie, your brochure says that the goal of fostering children is to reunite them with parent. What if I really want to adopt?

Well, like it says, if a child cannot be returned home, then foster parents can be considered as adoptive parents. I do have an excellent resource for this question, though. Courtesy of the Director of DSS (who has shared with me her own incredible story about her relationship with foster care), I give you adoptuskids.org! She described it as the match.com of adoption sites. You can go to the tab “Meet the Children” and put in some general characteristics of kids you might be looking to adopt (mostly age and number of kids). Maybe you really want to adopt a teenager, so you’d set the bars between 13 and 19. Maybe you’d be willing to take in up to 3 kids, so you say you would take a minimum of 1 kid and a maximum of 3. Maybe you want to find the kid closer to home, you can limit your search to a few states but you can also look at kids all over the country. There are more than 5,000 children registered on the website and there are far more kids across the country looking to be adopted so if this is the right choice for you in terms of childrearing, then here you go.

I’d like to end by saying that foster parenting isn’t for everyone. It’s a decision not to be made lightly, similar to choosing to bear children. It’s a tough job, it’s a detailed process, and you may find yourself in a situation that you didn’t expect. Some kids come into foster care traumatized. Some of them have disabilities. Some of them come from backgrounds with which you have zero familiarity. They all need someone to look after them. If you’re the kind of person who could say “My desire to care for these kids is greater than any potential discomfort that could arise while they are with me” then I think you’d make a great foster parent and it could really be worth your consideration.


Foster Care Sources

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/foster.pdf

A Post for Pride

June is Pride Month for the LGBTQIA+ community which is a cause for celebration, but this past week has been hard for this community (and several others) because of the tragedy in Orlando. I’ve had a lot to say in my personal life about what happened and in the process I came out via social media (scary but affirming so far). Additionally, my good friend Erin asked two weeks ago about services Social Services has for LGBTQIA+ people so now seems like a pretty opportune time to answer this question.

Doing some quick research on my own, I found that the Virginia Department of Social Services has a training module dedicated to preventing harassment, bullying, and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals who are seeking services related to domestic violence (this is the specific title but most of the module can be used in other instances and also makes references to creating a safe work environment for coworkers). This module includes a seven step process for addressing everyday bigotry, a section that debunks myths about serving the LGBT community, and some example scenarios for practice. Some of the language isn’t 100% inclusive, that being said, I also don’t know how old this PowerPoint is. But given how thorough this particular module is, I would be surprised by a negative response to any suggested corrections. If anyone would like to take a look at it, it can be found here.

I’ve also been working with one of the foster care workers and I discovered that the application to be a foster parent states that the applicant may not discriminate against a child based on gender identity or sexual orientation among other things. Meaning they can’t refuse to take in a child for these reasons alone or they cannot stop caring for a child for these reasons if they become aware of the child’s gender identity or sexual orientation after they have already agreed to take the child in. I know this seems like a formality and that most institutions have to include information on anti-discrimination laws but the fact that this extends to foster care makes me feel a whole lot better. LGBTQIA+ kids can end up involved with CPS because of abuse attributed to their parents’ feelings on their identity and one in four kids becomes homeless the day they come out to their parents. Knowing that the people who want to be foster parents see the anti-discrimination part of the application and think “taking care of this child is more important to me than anything else I could know about them” seems really fantastic to me. I have a lot of feelings about foster parents and I’d say 98% of them are good feelings. Thank you to any foster parent reading this.

The Department of Social Services also requires that administrators of assisted living programs take a one hour LGBT training to be certified. This is more of a state level thing so it’s not something I’ve encountered personally. The general idea though is that employees in assisted living programs should be sensitive to their clients and that clients shouldn’t have to be concerned about closeting themselves just because they’re going into a new living situation. Makes sense to me and I personally really appreciate the idea that that’s not something I would have to worry about when I get older.

This information is the most broad I could find/is what I have personally encountered. It may not be all encompassing and if I find out more then I will certainly update. Finally, I just want everyone who’s keeping up with me to know that I won’t be posting next week because I’ll be out of town. I’m going to be celebrating my birthday as well as Pride. So when I come back, I hope to bring you another great post to make up for missing a week.

More in two weeks!

orlando