Creating Compassionate Foster Care: Lessons for Hope from Children and Families in Crisis

By Janet C. Mann and Dr. Molly Kretchmar-Hendricks

Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-84905-660-1, 252 pages, $19.95

Janet and Paul Mann had been foster parents for six years before co-founding The Children’s Ark in Spokane, Wash. Children’s Ark was an intense, comprehensive, long-term program that served parents and children that provided both residential and outpatient services to help families reunify.

Janet shares, “After fostering and transitioning to permanent homes 40-some infants and toddlers it became apparent to us that often the greatest hurdle of all to reunification was the separation from primary caregivers, and that perhaps the best way to help the child was to help the whole family. We created The Children’s Ark hoping to keep children in foster care and their parents together.”

In the 16 years The Children’s Ark was in operation, Janet learned many lessons about working with children who entered the foster care system and their birth parents. Those takeaways Janet now shares in conjunction with Dr. Molly Kretchmar-Hendricks in “Creating Compassionate Foster Care.” In the book, Janet shares firsthand experiences that she had with children she and her husband cared for, as well as efforts to work with birth parents to help them regain custody of their children.

In each chapter, Janet shares the story of a child she cared for directly or through her work at The Children’s Ark. Some chapters focus on her relationship with the birth parents as well. Then Dr. Kretchmar-Hendricks breaks down the clinical perspective of Janet’s experience, providing information on research and theory around trauma and attachment. This layout allows readers to visualize the behaviors and outcomes and how trauma-informed parenting skills are applied toward better outcomes.

Included in the book is information on the Circle of Security model that The Children’s Ark used with the children and their complex family systems to work on reunification. A model still in practice today, Circle of Security International provides trainings on how its early intervention model can increase attachment and security for families. “Creating Compassionate Foster Care” is a very practical resource for foster families.

Through its combination of storytelling from those who are parenting children in the child welfare system with the clinical perspective on those experiences, it provides real examples of what foster parents go through every day. These types of teaching models really hit home for caregivers. In addition, the beauty of the book is the length of time that Janet has been in many of these children’s and birth parents’ lives.

Because of this longevity she has the ability to share long-term outcomes for these individuals. Her decades-long view of these families helps us better understand the short segment of time that these kids may be in a foster placement and what the long-term impact can be. Ultimately, “Creating Compassionate Foster Care” is a worthwhile read for any resource family. More programs like The Children’s Ark would probably equal better outcomes for children and increase successful reunifications. It’s unfortunate that the program became a victim of the economic recession in 2008 and ultimately closed in 2010.

— Reviewed by Kim Phagan-Hansel

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