Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Letter from a foster parent

“Though no one can make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.” Anonymous

We have been a foster family for nearly eight years. During that time we’ve welcomed and said goodbye to many wonderful children who’ve changed our lives. At a party last weekend, a well-meaning new acquaintance commented on being a foster parent. “I could NEVER do that. I could NEVER give them up.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that comment and how, still now, it cuts to my core. What is the appropriate response? “Yes, I can do it because I don’t care when they leave.” “Yes, it’s easy to let go. We just move on to the next placement.” I never quite know how to respond so I smile quietly (not my style) and move on to a new conversation.

Here’s what I would like to say. As a foster family, we are dedicated to helping the children in our care ‘make a brand new end.’ Whether it’s with a relative who steps up, or a new adoptive family, or back in to their renewed, re-motivated and re-educated biological family. So when it comes time to say goodbye, and help our children transition to their ‘brand new end,’ we suck it up, we create a lifebook for their time here, we take a traditional trip to Chuck E. Cheese, we give them a copy of Dr. Seuss “Oh The Places You’ll Go” for their life going forward and we say ‘see you later’ (never goodbye). Then we close the door of the car and tearfully drive away. I have likened the experience to having a tooth pulled without novocaine. It never gets any easier.

May is foster care awareness month. I hope those who read this will take a few minutes to think about the more than 10,000 children in foster care in Arizona. Many are living with relatives, many are living in family foster care and too many are living in group care facilities and shelters. You don’t have to become a foster family to help. You can fill “Just for Me” bags for children for their first night in care. You can become a member of a Foster Care Review Board or a Court Appointed Special Advocate. You can become a mentor for a child in a group home. You can help a child create a ‘brand new end.’

(Kris is a foster family with Arizona’s Children Association)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Budget Cuts Impact Children and Families

The recent deep cuts to the Department of Economic Security are having a significant impact on vulnerable children and families across our state. The damage will not be easily undone. Without a thoughtful and far-reaching analysis of what these immediate budget cuts will do, we are in danger of eliminating effective systems that have been put into place over the last 30-40 years.

In one instance, the reduction and elimination of "in home services" has resulted in 7,000 children who have been receiving services in their own homes and in their own communities, no longer having that support. Many will be in danger of moving out of their homes and into the foster care system, which is already overwhelmed with more than 10,000 children.

The state recently implemented budget cuts reducing payments to foster parents by 20% and cutting the foster care allowances by 50% for such items as clothing.

These kinds of cuts are not sustainable. Arizona's Children Association has survived and moved through very difficult times. This is one of the most difficult times of them all. We are seeing the dismantling of the child welfare system as we have known it and supported it over these many years in Arizona. We will eventually pay for all of these funding cuts in ways that will ultimately be far more expensive than the resources now required.

As a member of the board of directors of the Child Welfare League of America, I also have an opportunity to look across the country and see how different states are coping with this severe economic downturn. Not every state is slashing away at vulnerable children and families. More prudent efforts are ones that will allow us to continue to move forward in protecting our most vulnerable populations in ways that will prevent the kind of catastrophe that appears to be ahead of us.

Fred J. Chaffee, M.A., M.S.W.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Arizona's Children Association