Every day in foster care is a day in crisis.
As a beginning social worker, I did my internship at a large, multi-service family counseling agency in Trumbull County, Ohio. And I will never forget how it felt to leave those kids at the end of the day, wondering if they would have dinner or if anyone would be there to help them with their homework. I also remember knowing that the parents we worked with truly loved their children, while the complexities of abuse, addiction, mental illness, poverty and failed systems were more than I could imagine anyone being able to overcome.
One child in particular – who I hope is sitting in a college classroom right now – used to grab my arm and rest his head on my shoulder after each visit, asking, “Please can I stay longer?” As I lingered there a few minutes, I would think to myself three things:
“Can I get in trouble for this?”
“Do they let twenty-year-old students adopt kids?”
And then immediately afterward, “There’s no way I can ever do this job.”
Even then, I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain the appropriate boundaries needed to provide the kind of support those families deserved. I went on to spend fifteen years working with adults in a variety of settings, but I still sometimes imagine what it would be like to cram a few more beds into our 1,300 square-foot colonial. If love were really all they needed, I’m pretty sure I could be a foster mom. But truthfully, kids who have experienced significant trauma and loss need more than just love. For many different reasons, the answer hasn’t changed after all these years. I’m still not the best person for that job. So now I’m beginning to ask myself a different version of the same question:
If I can’t be a foster parent, what else can I do to help?
Maybe that means writing and talking about the kinds of things foster kids do need, like well-trained social workers and supportive programs designed to empower kids, respect birth parents and honor all the connections in a child’s life. After all, isn’t that what makes families and communities thrive? Not just one person who swoops in to save the day for a family in crisis, but a community of people who are committed to helping them succeed. Every child and every family needs a network of people who are willing to keep showing up for them – aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, teachers, neighbors, coaches, mentors, counselors and ministers – and children in foster care are no different. I think we all have a chance to be that that for someone, every single day.
Waiting Child Fund is a Cleveland based non-profit dedicated to transforming the future of foster care in Ohio. The state-wide opiate crisis has made their work more important than ever. Ohio’s child welfare system is not equipped to support the 14,000 kids who are currently in care, a drastic rise from 12,000 youth in foster care two years ago. This small but mighty team of professionals is on a mission to ensure that every child has a capable, empowered case worker and a supportive team of extended family and friends who will make their success and happiness a priority.
Donate. Your donation of just $10 today will go directly toward creating a better foster care system to support families in crisis and ensure that every child in foster care has the benefit of permanent loving connections. Click here to donate.
Stop by the Bottlehouse Brewery next Saturday, November 12th, for their last fundraising event of the year. Better yet, invite your friends and co-workers for a whole new level of friendly competition. Register online.