“Imagine that you’re at home one day, you’re in your bed asleep and you hear a knock at the door. When your mom opens the door it’s a police officer and he tells you, you need to gather your things, you have five minutes, and then go get in his car. None of your questions are answered, you’re put in the car, you’re taken to state DCYF (Department of Children, Youth and Families) office. You’re sitting there, still no questions are answered,” said Caitlin Sanders, Assistant Home Licensor for Catholic Community Services (CCS).
This is the tough reality many kids in the United States end up facing when they are about to be put into foster care.
CCS is a private agency that partners with the state in licensing foster homes and the providing case management for foster families in those homes, according to Leah Barkell, licensing agent for CCS.
The kids that are placed in these homes range in age from newborns to 18, Barkell continued.
She said CCS also provide families with monthly training and a monthly support group called the “Mockingbird Family Model,” which is a support group that meets within its own communities.
According to Jill Lappell, foster home licensor for CCS, the Kent community is lacking these mockingbird support groups.
“Kent community doesn’t have well-rounded support for foster care and we’re trying to help with the state because the state is overburdened,” Lappell said. “We’re really focusing on the Kent School District for the purpose of the mockingbird.”
Barkell stated Washington State in general is in serious need of foster families, but their main focus at the moment is to get more families involved within the Kent/Covington area, Maple Valley and Black Diamond.
“The number of kids coming into care doesn’t match the number of current beds that we have right now. So when that happens, that means kids have to get placed out of county or out of their school district, or out of the area,”Barkell explained. “Right now we’re really trying to get a lot homes in the Kent, Maple Valley Black Diamond area so that these kids who are getting placed in this area aren’t going to switch school, switch their comfort.”
The process of taking a foster child out of their home is traumatizing enough, Sanders said. So it’s important to make the transition into a foster home as easy as possible by making sure the family is within the same area as where the child grew up.
“If you have to leave our community, your friends, your school — that’s just another trauma on top. We’re just trying to prevent as much trauma for the child as we can,” Sanders said.
Unfortunately, this transition can be difficult for the families that want to be foster parents too.
To make this easy for everyone, Barkell said all possible foster families are to be put through 24 hours of initial training and the are asked questions that will benefit them and the child (or children) if answered honestly.
“The basic questions we ask are, ‘Why do you want to become a foster parent?’ So they have to have a heart to want to serve these kids and provide a safe and loving home for them. They need to have a space for the child, so a bed, a bedroom. They have to make a certain amount of income level and it’s based on the state’s TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or if they’re below the TANF level they don’t qualify to be licensed with the state, but if they’re above that, that’s fine,” Barkell explained.
Then, each foster parent is to undergo a fingerprint background check and follow safety guidelines — have a working fire alarm in each room, have a first aid kit and know how to use it, know CPR, etc.
“We really want to make sure that they’re prepared to take a placement because it’s one thing to say you’re interested in taking a placement and it’s one thing to prepare for a placement,” Lappell said.
If a possible foster parent fails their background check due to something minor, such as a DUI from 10 years ago, Barkell said CCS will work with that potential parent and the state to get them licensed if they are no longer getting DUIs.
Another thing to consider when people are thinking of becoming foster parents is whether or not you can take in more than one child.
“We have a lot of sibling groups come in and that’s part of our goal too to establish homes that can take sibling groups so they don’t have to be separated,” Sanders said.
But training and support doesn’t stop there.
Barkell said if a parent is successful in becoming a foster parent, CCS is there for them 24/7 if they have any questions.
”Once they’re licensed we work with the family. We never leave the family alone is the sense of ‘We’re in this with them,’” Barkell said.
Case managers are also there for foster parents if they need any extra guidance, Barkell said.
She also said another important step that foster parents have to be prepared to deal with is visitation with biological parents.
“We really believe in reunification when they come into foster care,” Barkell said.
There are also monthly support meetings, including the Mockingbird one in almost every community, Barkell said.
The Mockingbird program is an extra level of support, Sanders said.
She explained there are usually six to 10 homes within what is called a “constellation” and each home meets at the “hub home.” This hub home is where a licensed person is to provide added support for the other families.
Currently, there are only three constellations, Lappell said. Which is why they are hoping to get the Kent community more involved — there is a lack in support systems there.
“One of the interesting things we’re seeing here in Kent is there are quite a number of relative caregivers who are unlicensed and they’re not getting that support they need. One of our goals is we’re trying to raise awareness that there’s support for relative caregivers and when I say support I mean for them to get licensed, to get that extra backing of case management and resources for the kids, resources for the foster parents and so we are trying to reach out to unlicensed caregivers and tell them there are steps they can take to get licensed,” Lappell said.
The biggest thing to have when considering fostering a child is a big heart and patience.
“You need to love children. You need to able to flexible — there’s a lot of appointments, a lot of things like that you have to learn to bend and deal with. And just knowing that the kids are worth not giving up on,” Sanders said.