by Sara Blake
As part of National Foster Care Month, our monthly volunteer spotlight focuses on a CASA volunteer who was formerly a foster parent, once served for a short time as a contractor to CPS conducting homestudies of prospective foster families, and also serves as a Board Member for the non-profit Austin Angels [CC1] (Note: Candace never served as a foster parent at the same time as a CASA since that would be a conflict of interest).
First as a foster parent, then as a CASA volunteer, Candace Cronin’s experience has given her a unique and detailed perspective of the child welfare system. Candace describes her involvement with foster care as “a life’s calling.” While her professional life is mostly comprised of management consulting for the Federal government, one of her favorite work projects for the U.S. Children’s Bureau involved training former foster youth on how to share their stories to influence change in government and business.
Candace is a native Texan but after attending UT Austin, she went on to Penn State for graduate work where she met her husband of 15 years- Brian; both Brian and Candace continue to work together as consultants. After completing their psychology degrees, Candace and Brian moved to Virginia where they first became licensed as foster parents in 2006. A few years later, when they moved to Austin, they immediately pursued their foster parent license in Texas. Fast forward to today, Candace and Brian have four children between the ages of 7 and 12, including 2 who were adopted through foster care. In addition to their own four children, Candace and her family have mentored new foster families and helped foster families with respite care, allowing foster parents to take breaks or trips when necessary.
“We got into foster care reluctantly and with the worry of most people- that our hearts were taking a big risk,” says Candace. “We craved ‘permanency’- to become parents via pregnancy or adoption but not something temporary like foster parenting. And here we were with our first placement being a precious 2-month-old baby girl, and we had never even been parents before!”
But soon after entering the world of foster parenting, Candace and Brian stopped working with their private adoption agency and decided to focus on fostering. The experience of foster parenting brought forth a realization for Candace and Brian that “all things are truly temporary” (even biology does not offer any guarantees of permanency) and thus, “living and loving in the moment is the authentic parenting experience.” Even after the baby was returned to her birth parents (twice) and they went through “a grieving process,” Candace and Brian still felt passionate about fostering. (Note: After 2.5 years, they were asked to adopt that baby girl!)
None of the children Candace and Brian fostered had CASA volunteers; yet even before knowing what CASA was, Candace recognized the need for an objective voice.
“You’ve got attorneys with legal obligations, and caseworkers with certain requirements, but there was a missing component- a neutral party to focus on the child’s best interest,” says Candace.
Looking back, Candace feels that things would have been different, and possibly less traumatic for the children, had there been a CASA volunteer involved in those cases.
One of the things Candace is passionate about is the value of the birth family connection. She wholeheartedly encourages the foster and birth families to have a good relationship for the sake of the child. Children often attach their own image to that of their birthparents regardless of what they endured. So we have to find a way to facilitate healthy connections when possible.
“I have learned there is a humanity to most people but sometimes you have to dig for it,” says Candace. “If you can separate out the people from the crimes against the child, you can be angry at what happened to the child while still being able to have some compassion towards the people involved.”
Being a foster mom and now a CASA volunteer showed Candace as much about herself as about others.
“My faith had always taught me that every human being is valuable, but I didn’t really know how to exercise that belief. Honestly, I came to realize I was a judgmental person. I had thought ‘why don’t they just pull themselves up? How horrible that they would make these decisions.’ But when I got to know the people involved, I could see that so many people lack the love, support, healthy family connections, cognitive and mental abilities, resources, and education that I take for granted,” says Candace. “Now I think about what would be different if someone had stepped in and done something sooner for these families and children. I ask myself, ‘What does it mean to say each person has value? How do I start to de-layer the judgments that I have?’ It was a paradigm shift for me; I look at people differently. Far less things make me retract now. In fact, I look forward to meeting the children and families. I am not scared to go deep with people.”
And for Candace, not being afraid to go deep has allowed her to witness what she describes as miracles, such as seeing the reunification of families; observing a 3- year old go from not walking to running in her foster home; or watching a teenager- who once wanted to end life- become student council president.
“I believe that joy is a close cousin to suffering,” says Candace. “The biggest miracles are seen when you are willing to get into the hard stuff. It’s like saying that the big mountains are witnessed from the deepest valleys. There’s no doubt we witness hard things, but if we don’t get involved, it is impossible to know what possibilities are out there, and I might miss being part of a solution. In fact, I worry that by sitting around and just talking about the issues- without taking action- we may contribute to spreading untrue beliefs, thus, we contribute to the stigmas of foster care and to the problem!”
“Maybe not everyone is called to be a foster parent or even a CASA volunteer, but plug in and be a support to the foster community,” recommends Candace. “There are million ways to do it! There is no such thing as offering too much support to the foster families, kids in foster care, or even caseworkers and birth parents. I don’t feel like you can ever over help!”
Volunteer Profiles 2018 May