National Foster Care Month Recognizes the Critical Need to Support and Develop Resource Families BY JANE RACHAL For the more than 400,000 children and youth in foster care, having an adequate pool of qualified resource families — foster, adoptive and kinship caregivers — is essential in meeting their needs. Being a caregiver to a child or youth in foster care is one of the most important, challenging and rewarding roles an individual may ever play. Resource families have the ability to positively impact lives in powerful and far-reaching ways. As partners in caring for children, resource families should have access to specialized training and ongoing, targeted support services to provide high quality, trauma-informed care. The Children’s Bureau is strengthening the ways in which child welfare systems recruit, engage, develop and support resource families as part of an overall approach to diligent recruitment. Resource families have a unique role because they provide safe, loving homes to children in need while also serving as liaisons to the child welfare system and working with birth families as essential partners in the permanency process. May is National Foster Care Month, with this year’s theme — “Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families” — reflecting the Children’s Bureau’s commitment to ensuring that child welfare systems identify and implement integrated approaches for recruiting and supporting resource families. This includes preparing resource families to partner with child welfare agencies, birth families and the children they care for to help achieve permanency. Providing resource caregivers with ongoing development and support increases their ability to address each child’s unique needs, improves placement stability and helps to strengthen the relationship with birth families and the child welfare agency. The Children’s Bureau is committed to working with child welfare systems to highlight the importance of educating prospective resource families on what to expect and how to access quality services — from the initial engagement through the entire caregiving experience — so families are prepared to support and advocate for children in foster care. Pre-service training helps prospective resource parents decide whether providing foster, adoptive or kinship care to children is appropriate for them, while inservice training helps support them once they begin caring for children. Foster parent in-service training varies by state, but typically covers the daily realities of foster parenting, including information about roles, rights and responsibilities; parenting and behavior management skills; child and family development; how to build relationships with the child, agency and birth family; tips for working toward permanency; when and how to access respite care to avoid caregiver burnout; and eligible reimbursements and covered expenses. Training alone will not prepare resource families for every situation that may come their way but it offers tools that may help them become more comfortable and capable in their important role. The Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare Information Gateway support National Foster Care Month through a website that offers comprehensive resources and tips:
- For parents, including what to expect when a child is removed from the home, how to build a positive relationship with the permanency team, and how to access support.
- For youth, including advice from youth who have been in foster care, what to expect when entering foster care, how to stay involved in the permanency plan, and how to get help.
- For foster parents, including information on caring for children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect, how to build relationships with a child’s permanency team, and how to access support.
- For kinship caregivers, including how to prepare for their new role, how to deal with a changing family dynamic, and how to find help.
- For tribes, including how to identify homes for native children and youth, how to build an effective tribal foster care system, and how to find support.
- For communities, including statistics on children in foster care, how to become a foster parent, and how community members might support children in foster care and resource families.
- For child welfare professionals, including how to develop more resource families that reflect the specific needs of the children needing out-of-home care and how to use this child-specific focus — referred to as diligent recruitment — to achieve permanency.
The website also features real-life stories about foster care from the perspective of parents, youth, resource families and service providers, including:
- A single mother who discusses the transformative power of parent support groups and how her child’s foster parents supported her through treatment for substance abuse and helped her reunify with her son.
- A veteran resource parent who reminds us of the importance of not taking a child’s comments or behavior personally. “By us constantly remembering what they went through, we see ways we can help them. . . by showing them that their abuse was not because [they were bad] children, but because of loved ones making the wrong choices. We never talk bad about the parents, because all we know is what the child has told us about the parents they love, and we need to respect that as foster parents.”
- A long-time resource parent who describes the enormous value of a local support group on both the child in her care and on her caregiving. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
These powerful stories emphasize the many ways resource families strengthen families involved in foster care and demonstrate the value of quality support services. Throughout the year and especially during National Foster Care Month in May, the Children’s Bureau recognizes all those who play an important role in achieving safety, permanency and well-being for our children and youth, including the resource families, case managers, judges, guardians ad litem, attorneys, treatment providers and community members who strive to help young people during a challenging time in their lives. It is these individuals and families who become involved as foster parents, respite providers, volunteers or mentors of children needing an adult role model that provide the essential framework for a continuum of care that effectively helps children and families be their best. The Children’s Bureau is partnering with Child Welfare Information Gateway to support those involved in foster care through the National Foster Care Month website. To learn more about the important role we all have in empowering caregivers and strengthening families to achieve the best possible outcomes for our children and youth, visit the website today at https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Rachal is a senior writer for Child Welfare Information Gateway, the information service for the Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.