May 01 2018
By Callie Langford
May is National Foster Care Month. If you’re considering becoming a foster parent… thank you! We always need more people in Austin willing to open their homes to kids during a family’s time of need. But becoming a foster parent is a huge step, and not everyone is ready to dive right in.
If that’s where you’re at, consider volunteering with CASA first! Think of CASA as a “prereq” for becoming a foster parent. Today we wanted to explore the lessons that volunteering with CASA can teach you about being a great foster parent. Here’s a preview of your Foster Parenting Prereqisite curriculum:
Nuances of the System
There’s almost nothing black and white about child welfare. It’s an incredibly complicated and nuanced system. Volunteering with CASA is one of the best ways to get to know all parts of it and develop an understanding of its intricate nature without working in it. It may even help you get to know the many different organizations that license foster parents so that you can determine which one you would prefer to be a part of.
It’s important to know that as a foster parent, goodbyes are part of the process. Even when you’re looking to adopt from the foster care system, there’s no guarantee what the outcome of a case will be. In the majority of cases, children reunify with their own parents. Goodbyes are an important part of this system, and there’s certainly an emotional toll to that, especially when someone has lived in your home and you’ve become attached. CASA volunteers learn about healthy goodbyes with the kids they serve, and develop an understanding of why these are so beneficial to a child’s health and well-being. If you volunteer with CASA before becoming a foster parent, you’ll get the chance to practice these tough moments.
Understanding Trauma and the Complex Feelings and Behaviors of Kids in Care
To children, home is with their family in their neighborhood surrounded by their culture. Regardless of the abusive or neglectful circumstances for their removal, children in care would prefer that these circumstances be mitigated and that they be able to return home as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the child welfare timeline does not move as quickly or as favorably as they would like or can understand, and the children have a difficult time processing the emotions that come with all of this. It can often be disappointing or frustrating for foster parents when children don’t react as you would expect.
As a CASA volunteer, you will learn about trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and get a strong understanding for what kids are going through, how that might affect their behavior, and what they need to heal. You will then see the reality firsthand on your case of what kids experience after being separated from family. Children who are traumatized need consistency and stability. Foster families who understand trauma going in will have realistic expectations and be better equipped to remain a long-term placement for kids who desperately need that stability.
Teamwork and Communication with Parties on the Case
Volunteering with CASA will help you to get to know all of the different people involved in a Child Protective Services case. You will understand the responsibilities and roles of the different parties. While a foster parent can and should expect to hear from a CASA volunteer monthly, they should only expect to hear from attorneys once every 3 months as a check-in from court. This is part of the difference in our roles, and as a CASA volunteer, you will learn who the people are and how to best facilitate communication with everyone. This will be invaluable to you as a foster parent.
Cultural Competency and Humility
One of the toughest things about foster parenting may be bringing a child or children into your home who come from a completely different cultural background, for both you and them. With CASA, a good portion of the training, ongoing Continuing Education, and support from your supervisor will be focused on work needed to ensure that children from a different background are getting their cultural needs met and staying connected to family and heritage. Building these skills will make you a stronger foster parent to children who may feel out of place or disconnected from their culture.
Your Personal Ability to Commit
Committing to becoming a foster parent is way bigger than volunteering with CASA. You’re opening up your home to kids and committing to a 24/7 role in their lives. CASA is 15-20 hours a month with way less personal involvement (for instance, kids never come to your home). Figuring out if you can make the time, energy and emotional commitments to volunteering with CASA will help you understand your capacity to be a foster parent.
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