Ever thought of becoming a Foster Parent?

aunt and nephewIt’s not a quick decision.  Ask anyone who fosters how they decided to become a foster parent, and they will talk to you about a journey.  A journey filled with questions like: Will I get too attached?  What will it feel like when my foster child leaves? These questions seem to be universal.

Recently we’ve come across several blog posts that go to the heart of the attachment questions by reframing the issue from the child’s perspective. Jason Johnson’s post movingly refers to shifting his thinking “away from what I stand to lose and towards what a child might stand to gain.

In a post called Crash Course in Parenting, the author writes “I am going to cry if/when “my boys” go home, possibly for days or even weeks. . . . But I hope that we can have a positive impact on the children that make their way into our home and into our hearts. They have been through so much and any loss that I might endure is so small in comparison to their very great losses.”

In Massachusetts, there are thousands of young people in need of loving foster homes.  They are waiting for safety, love and guidance. If you foster, will your foster child eventually leave you? In all likelihood, yes.  Will it be hard? Yes. Will you have made a difference? Most definitely yes.  These posts above remind us that fostering is not about the adults, it’s about the kids.

Plummer Foster Care turned away more than 200 kids last year because we didn’t have enough parents. Can you help?  Click here to find out more.

Voices of Youth in Foster Care

jaritsaAt Plummer Home’s fundraising dinner on June 27th, youth from each of our programs bravely got up and told their stories. One-by-one they collected their courage, overcame their anxieties and movingly shared with 300 strangers the things that made a difference for them.

We took a bit of a risk with this event in that none of us was privy to the comments of each speaker. In fact, one of our 18 year old young men spoke spontaneously, using no prepared remarks. Little did we know that, though these speakers had never met one another and had been served in different Plummer Home programs, they would focus in on a common theme.

The importance of truly listening to the Youth’s Voice.

Each speaker talked of the trepidation a young person feels when entering a new group home, moving to a new foster family or being ordered by a court into a detention diversion program. They spoke of the questions that inevitably ran through their heads. What do I need to do to survive here? What are the rules at this new place? Will they listen to me? Will I have any say in what happens in my life?

And they spoke of finding people who were genuinely interested. People who actively asked about their interests and responded with encouragement. People who understood that each child is different, and that rigid rules generally don’t serve anybody well.

A lot has been written about the importance of making young people partners in their own treatment. In child welfare lingo it’s called “Youth Guided Care.” It’s not rocket science really. It’s about giving them authentic opportunities to speak up, in big ways and small. It’s about helping youth understand their choices, and guiding them in their decision-making. It’s about taking their suggestions and feelings seriously and acting on them whenever possible. And it’s about treating each young person as a unique individual with their own strengths, hopes and dreams.

We could not have been more surprised (or proud) that these young people, unbeknownst to themselves or us, focused on the importance of being allowed to participate and guide their own treatment. It speaks volumes to the importance of making Youth Guided Care standard operating procedure in any program working with youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system.

For more information on Youth Guided Care in the context of residential programs, see Redefining Residential: Youth Guided Treatment.

Aging Out of Foster Care, and then Giving Back

_N5B2473This week we share a post from Plummer Home Board Member David Guilbeault.  David was a resident of Plummer Home from age 16-18.  Since aging out of foster care 8 years ago, he has stayed involved with Plummer, and last year he joined our board.  Though he lives in South Carolina, he travels back to see family, attend board meetings and visit friends.  While here in May he participated in the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Conference

My Mission in the Homeland

When a colleague invited me to join a panel discussion at the Sixth Annual Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America (REFCA) conference, I couldn’t resist the urge. I decided that it would be the focal point of what I wound up calling my “mission in the homeland.” There is work to be done everywhere, and that includes here at home!

The 2015 conference, sponsored by the Treehouse Foundation, focused on the Power of Collaboration in reforming the way America’s foster care system works. The night before the conference, I attended a spaghetti dinner at the Treehouse Community, a very special place in MA that connects elders, foster parents, and foster/adoptive children in a way that puts the family unit front and center. It was a long way to drive in the midst of a week of traveling all over the North Shore and Merrimack Valley for various functions related to the Plummer Home, on whose board I serve, but it was all well worth the time.

At this sixth REFCA Conference, each of the three keynote speakers was informative and inspirational (truly beyond words, actually). The energy from the time of check-in until the very final moments was overwhelmingly inspiring. Individuals who are some of the best in their field had come together to share progress and ideas that align so well with the focus of Plummer Home and Plummer’s foster care program.

I had individuals approach me and remind me that what Plummer is doing to connect young people to families is critical, and that we are addressing the needs of our youth in an approach that needs to become the ‘norm’ instead of the exception. That “approach” is our permanency model – simply put, Plummer believes that every young person in foster care needs and deserves to be part of a loving, lifelong family, no matter what that youth’s circumstance, age or challenges. The Treehouse Community is a living example of how kids can thrive when they’re in that supportive environment.

There was one downfall to the conference – concurrent sessions meant that as a panelist I would only get to attend one other workshop, and choosing between them was difficult!  I joined Plummer’s Executive Director, James Lister for the panel entitled Family Finding at Its Best.  Our focus was best practices for permanency outcomes for older foster children.  It was exciting to discuss the inspired work that Plummer Home and Plummer Foster Care have been doing to find permanency for our youth.

This type of event gave me great insight into the recognition that Plummer Home is receiving for being at the forefront of what we hope to achieve on a broad scale – keeping kids home whenever possible, getting kids back home as quickly as possible, or finding kids a home when the first two options aren’t achievable. We have grand visions, not just for our own kids, but for kids everywhere.

REFCA was the high point of a week spent doing outreach and really rolling up my sleeves on behalf of Plummer Home. I hope we will be asked back next year, and plan on putting this conference on my calendar for the foreseeable future!