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Approaching the 6 Month Mark

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What does 6 months as a case planner look like? I’m not quite sure about anyone else, but as I gear up to reach the 6 month mark, for me, it looks like finally having some vacation time. It looks like having short-term memory loss and an even shorter attention span. It looks like 4 kids going home to a parent, 1 adoption and countless referrals, conversations and phone calls. It looks like rolling my eyes at the FCLS attorney, arguing with ACS, laughing with birth parents/foster parents and smiling at all the precocious things children do. I thought that by the time I finally reached 6 months, I would have it mostly figured out- that I would have found the perfect balance between doing the work and finding the time to still pursue the things that move me forward. Alas, I have not. I still work from 9 AM until 9 PM, never finding the time to sit before a piano and practice. I find myself prioritizing appointments and visitations for my clients during the time when I have my own personal appointments and then arriving to my voice lessons in the city over an hour and a half late. Some days I don’t comb my hair because I’m rushing to court for a morning general call and then I still don’t get before a judge before 4PM. I have kids sneeze in my face and babies puke on my shirt while their parents look sheepish. I still find myself unable to say “no” when parents ask me for one more favor or to do just one more thing. Most days I feel like I am doing something wrong or I’m not doing enough even when I know that I am doing the best that I can. Some days I sit at my desk feeling so lost and confused as the list of things the court and my families expect from me piles up. Endless B2H referrals, drug treatment referrals, parenting classes, getting updates from schools and service providers, following up with my parents to see if they are getting what they need from me, while trying to make sure that my families’ emotional needs are being met. Gosh, THIS is what 6 month looks like. It also happens to be what the one year mark looks like, the five-year mark looks like and even the twenty-five year mark looks like. I’ve watched my co-workers who have been at the agency for 5-20 years as case planners. Their days never get easier or more uniform. There’s always more to know and even more to do. So how do they push forward and find time to do good work? They maintain balance sharing their sense of humor and telling some of the most unbelievable stories.  They spend hours talking to each other about their cases, they ask if anyone has any referral recommendations and when all else fails, they do what they can and stop when they need to, because tomorrow is also another day. They know that they are not there to fix people’s lives and that they are a resource. 

This is what my 6 months looks like.

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Elevator Encounter

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A lady in the elevator of our new building asked me what I do yesterday. I told her the name of our organization and that among other things, we train and support child welfare workers and help kids in care get permanent and loving families.

She seemed very touched and told me that the concept of family was very close to her heart as she had been in care as a teen and had no family to speak of. She told me that in college she had panhandled for lunch money not two blocks from the downtown office building we now shared.

“I made it. It was always hard, and I am thankful everyday to all the people who helped me along the way,” she said.

She went on to tell me that she works in social welfare as well and then she thanked me for helping “others like her.”

It isn’t hard to feel good about the work I do, but this experience literally put a face on it. The gravity of how far this young woman had come and how she had struggled to do so stuck with me. I now go to work each day knowing that what I do is generating more success stories for children in care like this young lady. 

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Adoption Stories

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Today concludes National Adoption Awareness Month.  Throughout November, several organizations and agencies launched campaigns and initiatives to  help spread awareness about the need to get more children into safe and permanent placements with families.  This month, Fostering Change for Children began a series of trainings that educate ambivalent parents and youth in care about the advantages of taking the next steps toward adoption.  We expect that by working with all stakeholders in the process, we can increase permanency rates and enhance our organization’s mission.

This month, we invited our Children’s Corps members to share some of their adoption stories with us.  The success of achieving permanency for families through adoption in such a narrow period of time for most of our members is a real feat.  The reality of the situation is that the average length of stay for youth in care is about 26.7 months -that’s more than two years without a permanent home for 400,000 youth in care. Often the process of getting a child into a permanent placement, is stalled by paper work, incomplete files, caseworker turnover and other factors that exist naturally in a flawed system accounting for the 114,000 children in care awaiting adoption, currently.

If you attended our Spring into Action Social this May, you witnessed first hand, the passion and energy Kim Spadaro, author of our first story, has for the work she does.   If you didn’t attend our last one, feel free to join us at our Holiday Social next week.  Here is an account of one of her experiences in the field.

A two year old enters care with her two older sisters. They are placed together into a non-kinship foster home. Their mother visits consistently and is planning to have them returned to her care. This was 11 years ago. By the time I got the case in 2012, these three sisters have gone through countless foster homes, traumatizing experiences, and are all separated. Instead of being returned to their mother’s care, they have been lingering in foster care for over a decade. Their mother was not successful in planning for her girls and unfortunately was deported a few years ago. The two oldest girls never wanted to be adopted because of their strong loyalty to their mother and their mistrust of foster parents. They are going to age out of the system in a few years. The younger sister, now 13 years old, will be adopted next month. She has been through at least 10 foster homes, some kinship and some non-kinship. She has gone into a crisis residence center in order to stabilize her moods. She has suffered through serious trauma in her life and she has come out on top. In only a few short weeks, she will be adopted by a foster parent who she truly loves and loves her in return. She has found a family that has accepted her and her flaws and works towards coping with the loss of her mother. This family encourages maintaining the bond between sisters. This girl finally found the right fit for her and after 11 years, finally has achieved permanency. I have only worked with this family for a few short months, but I will never forget the smile on this girl’s face when I walked into her home and told her that there is an adoption date scheduled and she will permanently be a part of this family. 

Our next story comes from Jackie Edwards, a Children’s Corps member who has been in the field just three months.

There are usually two sides to every story, two perspectives if you will.  Occasionally these perspectives are essentially opposites of each other as is often the case in foster care.  For example, there is nothing much more heartbreaking than seeing a day old infant completely abandoned by his parents.  It is easy to question how they could leave him. “Didn’t they love him?” “Don’t they care about him at all?”  This is where the other perspective comes in and with that, a story about one of my clients who was in that very position.

Baby Boy L.  was born full term in a hospital and his parents left him there, knowing it was a safe haven and their beautiful son would be safe and well cared for.  At two days old Baby Boy L. went home to loving parents who were able to provide for him and make sure he was safe and healthy.  He went home to an entire extended family that immediately fell in love with him, a family that would move heaven and earth to keep him in their lives.  Now at nearly 18 months, Baby Boy L. is living with the only mom he has ever known, the woman who has raised him his entire life.  He is happy and thriving at home and all because a woman who was struggling in her own life knew she would not be able to care for him the way he would need her to.  “Is this story heartbreaking?”  Absolutely, but it is also inspiring.  The beginning of Baby Boy L.’s life was rocky, but today he is being adopted into his own loving family.

The children in foster care have some of the most horrific stories you can possibly imagine.  From neglect and inadequate guardianship to serious physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, our children have experienced more than most ever would (or should) in their short lifetimes and it is there that we must begin the process of finding a way to get them home.  Some cases are so horrific that from day one you know that the children will never be able to go home again and so you must find a new home, a new family for them.  

Imagine for example, three children sit at home with their mother on a cool winter evening and suddenly, their estranged father breaks in and brutally murders their mother.  Now you have  situation where three children are without their mother and their father in jail because of it.  Where do the kids go?  How can they ever cope with the fact that their mother is gone, at the hands of their father, viciously, in their presence?  It was sudden, unexpected and violent, but their lives must go on.  Despite everything the children are lucky enough to have grandparents who are living close by and who are willing and able to take the children in.  They kids will be able to stay together with their family, who understands what they are going through and can support them through everything.  The children will be adopted by the very same people who were helping to raise them before the tragedy.

The world of foster care is often surrounded by heartbreak and chaos and it is easy to miss the beauty.  There are foster parents who open their home to give a child a safe place to sleep, who drive their kids all over the city for appointments and visits, and who love the children placed in their home as if they were their own.  But most of all, it is an incredibly inspiring experience to speak to foster parents who feel that they are simply called to adopt.  

Kim, Jackie and several of our other corps members will be at our next event to share plenty more stories with you.

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No Ordinary Tuesday

Today marks the beginning of the giving season and a group of leaders in business, government and nonprofits have united to create #GivingTuesday.  #GivingTuesday represents a social campaign (hence the hashtag) that puts the spirit of giving back into the holiday season.  It is meant to encourage people to give their time and/or  money to support the work of organizations they believe in.  

Give more, give better, and give smarter.

Today, we encourage you to begin the giving season with Fostering Change for Children in mind.  Support the programs that are helping to provide permanent solutions for children (and families) in the child welfare system by attending our Holiday Social on Tuesday, December 4 in New York City.  

We are also seeking volunteers for this event if you or anyone you know is interested in helping out, please contact sonya@fosteringchangeforchildren.org.

To learn more about Giving Tuesday, please visit www.givingtuesday.org to learn more about the campaign.

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Celebrate Foster Care Awareness Month with us!

Celebrate Foster Care Awareness Month with us tomorrow @overlooknyc ! http://ow.ly/aDuEd

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blogpost by Board Member of Fostering Change for Children

Check out this recent blogpost by one of our board members supporting @fosteringchange http://ow.ly/a8Sbj

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Kim’s Testimonial

Do well in school. Go to college. Start a career. Make a lot of money. Start a family.

The natural progression of things as a white suburban girl born into a middle-class family with well-educated parents…

The thought of not going to college never even crossed my mind during high school. I worked as hard as I could to be a good student, have quality friends and a positive reputation. I went to the highest-accredited school I was accepted to, New York University, in the hopes of becoming a lawyer like my dad (or like Alex Cabot on Law and Order: SVU). I went to college as a right-winged and narrow-minded girl and graduated an accepting and much more understanding young adult. I never expected to do social work when I started college. That seemed like a career where I was never going to make enough money to support my poor shopping habits and I would have to listen to people cry to me all day. Not ideal. I was supposed to be on Wall Street or in a prestigious law firm. Turns out the right fit isn’t necessarily what was expected of me by everyone or, more importantly, what I expected for myself.

Sophomore year of college, I applied to an internship at a homeless shelter on a whim and almost didn’t go to the interview.

I stayed for two years.

For the rest of my undergraduate career, I interned at various non-profits located in the city teaching me what it’s like to work with a low-income population and how to navigate the world of Medicaid, homeless shelters, and finally foster care. I was interning at Hudson County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) who work with children in foster care, when I saw the posting for Children’s Corps. I immediately fell in love with the model. I had that “Say Yes to the Dress” feeling. I knew that this was for me. I had heard so many horror stories about foster care, but when reading more about Fostering Change for Children, the positive aspects outshined the negatives by a million.

This summer marked the beginning of my two year Children’s Corps journey. Starting with a five week training program, I met a group of my peers all with the same goal, to use our individual skills to help families. The energy in the training room this past summer only reinforced my feelings towards this work. As I learned about child welfare and how to navigate through a crazy system with many players all with different roles and all different opinions, I was excited to begin as a case planner. I knew that I was going to make my voice be heard. I genuinely felt that I could make a difference and that everyone in the room was going to touch at least one child’s life that may have gotten “lost in the system.” The amount of talent and perseverance in all of my fellow Children’s Corps members is truly inspiring.

I’m now a Case Planner. I make little money. I cannot imagine doing this work and starting a family. My life is not what I anticipated at all. I get yelled at multiple times a day by a foster parent, a birth parent, a judge or an attorney. I work late going to uncomfortable neighborhoods in the dark. I battle with service providers to get the reports I need. And then I supervise a visit with a mother who loves her child and the rest of my week seems completely worthwhile…

 

 

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