Why Foster Children Need Families that will be theirs Forever

Children and teenagers who grow up in foster care often feel that nothing in their life is permanent. This is especially true for kids who’ve had multiple moves while in foster care. When she’s had to move from one place to another, she may have lost everything familiar to her. She may have had to deal not only with a new home, but also with a new school, new friends and a new community. Starting over again is not easy and it can make a child reluctant to put down deep roots anywhere.

For many kids in foster care their feeling that everything is temporary can’t change until they have the unconditional commitment that comes from an adult willing to make a legal commitment to them.  If a child will not be returning to their family of origin, such a legal relationship will come through adoption or guardianship. This kind of legal commitment can provide them something that most of us take for granted…the security of knowing that they won’t have to change homes and families again. This is no less important for older youth than it is for their younger brothers and sisters.

When a sixteen or seventeen year old gets an unconditional commitment to be part of a forever family, it doesn’t make up for the years she lived without the security such a family provides. But it does give her a permanent family for the rest of her life. And that security, even if she gets it as an older teen, will help her feel a sense of belonging that has been absent from her life. That sense of belonging may help her feel enough to have deeper relationships with others. It’s never too late for kids to be given a chance to become more rooted in their families and communities.

Families for Life – Why all kids need them and how foster parents can help

planTeenagers don’t need families. They don’t even want families.

Really?

Sometimes that’s what people think. And if a teen actually expresses this sentiment, it is tempting to accept their statements at face value. This can lead to tragic consequences for young people in the foster care / group care system.

When young people leave the child welfare system with no family to count on, nobody they know is committed to them forever, the outcomes are grim. High rates of homelessness, unemployment, early parenting – you name it.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When you don’t have a family, who teaches you even the most basic life skills? Who explains how to find an apartment, and be a responsible tenant? Who teaches you how to manage money? Or about the importance of brushing your teeth?

Youth in foster care and group care live in an unpredictable world in which they have no say over what happens to them. Strangers make decisions that profoundly impact a young person’s life – judges, social workers, teachers, lawyers, foster parents – people trying to do the right thing but who, at the end of the day, have no long-term commitment to, or responsibility for, the child.

At Plummer Home, we believe that all young people — including teenagers — need permanent families and we place a high priority on making this happen. For that reason, our group care and foster care programs place a high priority on connecting kids with permanent families. To be sure, we spend a lot of time teaching them skills and helping them connect with community — two other things necessary for success – but we never give up on finding family. This is as true for our 13 years olds as it is for our 21 year olds.

If you become a foster parent with Plummer, our goal is that you will be the last foster placement for that child. That doesn’t mean you will provide the child’s permanent home, but is does mean that you believe, as we do, that repeated moves are harmful. And that you will help us achieve the goal of finding a permanent place for your foster child. Our goal is a permanent family, one that doesn’t disappear when a kid turns a certain age. Parents are forever.

To learn more about fostering, call us at 978-935-9555 or visit us at plummerhome.org/fostercare. Your love can make all the difference. Thank you!

At the Holidays: Foster Kids on the Outside Looking In

Christmas Party 2013Tradition looms large for most people in December. Some of us get out a menorah and light Hanukkah candles. Others put up a Christmas tree. Most of us take for granted that we will spend time with family.

Not so for thousands of kids in the foster care system. These kids, especially those in group homes, feel as though they’re on the outside looking in on things so basic that most of us never stop to consider their fundamental importance to us.

“Christmas is a time where everyone comes together as family.”

So said a youth in Plummer’s group home. The thing is, this young man hasn’t lived with his family since he was five – he is 18 now. And yet, he identifies family as the defining element of Christmas. Not presents, not food, not decorations. Family. 

While nothing can substitute for belonging to a forever family, thanks to people who care, Plummer and other agencies can help build and maintain holiday traditions that perhaps our kids will carry with them as they grow up.

At Thanksgiving we have a big meal with lots of turkey and pie. The dining room is set nicely with tablecloths and flowers. Before dinner, we each say what we’re thankful for.

At this time of year, we also ask our kids if there are particular gifts they’d like. The generosity of the community means we can get lots of things on these lists. Our group home becomes very busy as people deliver gifts that we hustle off to the attic before the boys get a peek. Day after day, people’s kindness is revealed.

Several days before Christmas, we have a big party. Before opening gifts, we read Twas the Night Before Christmas. You can usually hear a pin drop.

And then the present opening begins. Staff members circulate among the kids — oooing and aahing at their gifts, holding shirts up to see if they’ll fit — all the things a parent does.

This is one of the happiest and saddest days in Plummer’s group home. Like all children, our kids are thrilled to get gifts. But at the end of the day, the most important piece is missing from this tradition. Family.

We work hard every day to reconnect our kids with family. We are challenging the notion that teens don’t need families, or that somehow they don’t want families, because we have seen that this is not the case. And when we are successful, we know that we have provided the best gift of all, the gift of family.

Perhaps you will honor the tradition of giving during this holiday by becoming a foster parent. You don’t need to be rich, married, or own a fancy house. You just need to open your heart to a child who needs a family, like all children do.

Call today for more information, 978-935-9555 or visit plummerhome.org.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Foster Parents Make a Difference: Part 2 of 2

girl happy 2Parenting teenagers can feel like a thankless job, so when Mary received the following letter from Lydia she was incredibly touched. Mary was happy to share (with the permission of Lydia) this moment with us:

Well…I’m not sure how to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.  You always help me with everything and even if I’m suffering with my depression or even when I’m down or mad. 

To be honest I’m happy and proud to be your foster daughter.  You never give up on me; hardly ever.  I’m always blessed that you teach me what is right and wrong and tell me stories to make me feel better and smile.  You teach me life lessons.

If my mother was alive, she would be so glad that you are taking care of me and protecting me.  I’m so glad that you are in my life now.  You are probably the only person I trust with everything and the only person who has been there since my family hasn’t been around or asked about me. 

I’m glad to be part of the family and at least to have the best and craziest and funniest family. Half the time I feel like I’m not a foster child.  I feel like I’m part of the family.

You have helped me since the beginning until now.  You have inspired me so much by all the stories you have told and by what you do every single day taking care of all of us and treating us all the same. 

I love you very much and care about you very much—a lot.  Thank you for supporting me and the love and care you give me. 

Love, Lydia

16 year old Lydia has been in foster care since the age of three.  She has been moved seven times.  When Lydia moved in with Mary’s family, she was very angry and felt that everyone had always abandoned her.  She trusted no one and was convinced that something must be wrong with her.  Mary assured Lydia that nothing was wrong with her, and that she was welcome in Mary’s home.

Lydia is now a junior in high school and is passing all of her classes in spite of this being the third high school she has had to attend. She is very proud of her perfect attendance and is well liked by her teachers and peers.  She is looking forward to going to college.  Mary describes her as a kind, compassionate and special young lady.

Words from a Plummer Youth in Foster Care

boyI had a rough life growing up.  My biological mom was addicted to heroin and my dad was in jail most of the time. With four sisters and incapable parents, I was left with the burden of being the man of the family at a young age.  I was my family’s caregiver throughout my childhood, scrounging for food for my sisters and me, picking out the clothes we were going to wear to school the next day, or worrying that my mom was not going to pay the bills.

But I was one of the lucky ones in these situations – lucky because God answered my prayers and Plummer Foster Care found a great mom and dad to take me in.  I’m blessed that my [foster] mom has a kind heart and does not judge a troubled kid by his past.

Unfortunately, there are more kids out there who aren’t as lucky.  Many are not seen for their potential, as people who can go somewhere in life.  I am blessed to have a [foster] dad who treats me like a son and who gives me the advice I need to become a man.  He teaches me things my biological dad did not, could not.  I will be the first person in my family to graduate high school and pursue college to become a social worker because of these opportunities.

Agencies like Plummer Foster Care can help more children to have what I never had as a child.  An opportunity like the one I was given is what we are missing in our communities!  We are missing the love and compassion that my foster parents showed me, even as a total stranger.  Many kids who don’t have that turn to gangs, drugs, and even suicide. Truthfully, a lot of people could have seen me as just another kid from the ghetto throwing his life away.

I am writing to tell you that these kids out on the streets are more than that!  They want to be children, too. They want to be able to live normal lives, but they can’t because they feel like they’re the only ones to take care of their brothers and sisters.

That’s why Plummer Foster Care is so important.  Plummer can help get troubled kids off the streets by finding foster families who can care for them the way my mom and dad care for me.

This blog post is from a youth in a Plummer foster family.  To learn more about foster parenting, contact Plummer Foster Care at 978-935-9555 or visit PLUMMERHOME.ORG.

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!