By Ashika Sethi
International Day of Families was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to highlight the importance of and raise awareness around issues relating to families and the social, economic, and demographic processes that affect them.
This year on International Day of Families, we’re taking a moment to shed light on what family looks like for the kids we serve.
The beauty of families exist in their heterogeneity: No two families are the same. The same truth applies to the children in the child welfare system; family means something different to every child we serve.
When a child enters the care of Child Protective Services, there are a number of different family situations they may experience. In some cases, children can stay in the household they grew up in as their parents participate in services ordered by the court. Other times, children are placed with family members who can take care of them if it is not safe for them to remain with their parents. Many children enter what we know of as the foster care system, being placed with non-relative foster parents or in group homes. A child may also be placed with fictive kin, someone unrelated to the child but who has an emotionally significant relationship that characterizes them as family for the child. Fictive kin can be a neighbor, a teacher, a family friend, etc.
All of these different homes and placements may feel like family to a child, or they may not. Family can only be defined by each individual, and a feeling of familial connection and belonging doesn’t just happen because a child has a place to stay in a new home.
A few years ago at the National CASA conference, a group of foster care alumni from the Foster Club network shared their experiences, with one youth diving into what it takes to define family to them:
“Permanency is a very scary thing. When I entered foster care I was with a bio relative and they wanted guardianship—that was terrifying to me. Your parents are supposed to be people you trust the most, and betrayal by them makes it hard to trust others. How can you know someone in 6 months? I chose to stay in foster care instead of accept guardianship. Then, when I needed those bio relatives the most, they had chosen to step out of my life because I didn’t meet their level of success. I found permanent connections through the Independent Living Program and with other foster youth. Not that I wouldn’t want a permanent connection, but I don’t want one that’s rushed or feels unnatural.”
Of the cases that CASA of Travis County helped close in 2018, 63% of children were reunified with their parent(s), 16% were adopted by or now live permanently with relatives, 5% were adopted by non-relatives, and 5% turned eighteen while in the care of the state and aged out of the system.
Being removed from home is traumatic, and many of the children served by CASA have experienced frequent moves in addition to the initial removal from their parents. Research has shown that meaningful connections and a sense of belonging are the most important resiliency factors for children in foster care. Establishing close and healthy familial ties—biological or emotional—is a vital part of growing up. This is why we at CASA believe that every child deserves to have someone in their lives that they can call family. CASA of Travis County’s Family Finding program works to ensure that each child we serve knows their family background, has connections with their relatives and their community, and has the opportunity to live with their family whenever it is possible and safe. We recognize that “family” can mean biological relatives, godparents, or family friends. Whatever it means to a child, CASA strives to promote the sense of belonging that children deserve.
Learn more about our Family Finding volunteer opportunity on our Volunteer page.
2019 Advocacy May