by Julia Null Smith, Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications, LIFT Alliance
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
It would be wonderful if every child who was removed from an abusive home by the state could look forward to a future of stability, support, and recovery. But unfortunately, the reality often falls far short of that.
All too often, removal from the home and an experience in foster care are further traumatic experiences that can damage the kids they’re intended to help. But no child should live in an abusive or neglectful home, and often, removal from the home is the only option the state has to ensure a child’s safety. So how can we protect children’s safety and support their recovery and healing without traumatizing them further? Can we envision a foster care system that could fully nurture and care for kids who have been abused?
Here’s how such a system might work: a child is removed from an abusive home and placed with well-trained, loving adults. The child receives regular therapeutic interventions, and the foster parents have ongoing support as they incorporate trauma-informed protocols into their interactions. When the inevitable difficult moments arise, the parents have 24-hour on-call support from professionals, as well as regularly scheduled overnight or short-term breaks from their primary responsibility for the child.
That’s probably how the foster care system would work if we designed the system to work best for children. And so it’s exactly how Foster in Austin, the new child placing agency that’s a program of Austin Children’s Shelter, will operate. “If we know that failed foster home placements set a child back significantly, then it certainly seems like making sure those placements don’t fail would be a good place to start,” explains Hege Shahan, Director of Foster in Austin.
Foster in Austin will provide prospective foster families with the same level of training that ACS staff receives, plus home visits and an extensive screening process. The program will also offer 24-hour on-call support, as well as an allotment of respite time, in which the child can stay on ACS’ residential campus so the foster parents can rest, travel, or just take a break. The allotment will automatically renew on a quarterly basis, so foster parents know they can get the ongoing help they need to ensure a successful placement.
What makes foster placements fail? Two common reasons are a child acting out in a sexual manner, and a child behaving aggressively toward others in the home. Both behaviors are to be expected in children recovering from trauma and abuse. A Foster in Austin parent knows he can speak to professionals who can help him establish appropriate responses, communicate with the child’s therapist, and arrange for the child to spend a weekend away from the home as a “reset.” He knows he has a team helping him share the responsibility of parenting this child, and that difficult behaviors come with the territory of fostering kids who are recovering from abuse and neglect. He has the training and the support to face those difficult behaviors, instead of terminating the placement and further damaging the child.
“Our goal is to build a network of safe and stable foster families, and to continue to work closely with them to ensure long-term placements, which the research shows us are best for children,” says Shahan.
This week, the very first Foster in Austin family has completed the screening and training process, and any day now we will make our first placement. “This is a watershed event for ACS,” said Kelly White, the organization’s CEO and co-CEO of LIFT. “After years of seeing the damage that failed foster care placements can do to kids, we are all eager to build a better model, one that puts the needs and experiences of kids front and center.”