May is National Foster Care Month and our family is kicking it off in style. We will spend the day with a great group of kids and volunteer counselors from Sibling Connections. Our destination: A cool rock climbing gym where we can all create some joyous shared memories. We are Re-Envisioning Foster Care. Please join us!
I began Re-Envisioning Foster Care in 1999. The journey started on the day my 12 year old daughter and I stood in our driveway waiting for a social worker’s car to appear. That morning I had received a call asking if we would open our home to two little sisters. Our family said, “YES!” and I immediately left work, picked my daughter up from school and drove to the store to buy infant and toddler high chairs, car seats, cribs, diapers, and basic clothing.
My husband and I had just finished our foster parent training and were now certified to welcome children into our home. We had decided to sign up to become a foster family after reading a newspaper story about a five month old baby who had been kidnapped from his crib while taking a nap in his foster home.
My daughter grabbed my hand as the car approached, excited to meet the two little sisters. The social workers introduced us to the girls. A sweet five month old baby was placed in my outstretched arms. My daughter was introduced to a 17 month old toddler with gorgeous brown eyes. She helped her out of the car seat and took her hand.
These two beautiful little sisters led me into the world of child welfare and taught me the value of investing in the lives of all 500,000 children who experience foster care in this country. They showed me what our nation’s child welfare system looks like. They inspired me to Re-envision Foster Care in America.
The girls were exceptional teachers. As a result of the lessons learned while parenting them, I sold my businesses and became a full time child advocate. It became obvious to me that most Americans think there are only two ways to support children in foster care: Adopt them or become a foster parent. That is too much to ask of most people. The result: Hundreds of thousands of potential resources turn and walk away from the children in their communities who need them the most.
What is needed? A corps of community members in every region of the country who invest in the well-being of children in their backyards; folks who actively engage in creating a caring safety net for the infants, toddlers, school aged youngsters and teens whose lives have been impacted by foster care.
Every year 25,000 young Americans “age out” of our foster care system at risk for homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, teen parenting and lives of poverty. We can change this reality by coming together in regions all across the country to build roadmaps that take us in a new direction – one that encourages widespread investment and improves life outcomes.
For the past twelve years I have begun to craft that roadmap by beginning to create a compelling menu of new engagement options so that people of all ages can easily support children in their communities. With the generous help of many caring individuals I have created three non-profit organizations:
• The Treehouse Foundation, a multi-generational community where families who are adopting children from the public foster care system live in a neighborhood were folks of all ages are investing in one another’s lives.
• Sibling Connections, a year-round sibling connection initiative that offers summer camp and monthly programming designed to keep sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care connected all year long.
• Birdsong Farm, a year-round learning community designed to enhance the educational outcomes for students whose lives have been impacted by foster care.
Each is dedicated to ensuring that every child is rooted in family and community. To that end, we have launched a national Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative in Massachusetts. Once we get our regional road map and implementation plan all figured out we’ll be ready to share the learning with folks everywhere!
This May as we celebrate National Foster Care Month, may we come together to wish all our children and youth in foster care health and well-being. May we wish them loving family and community connections. While we’re at it, let’s also redouble our efforts to make sure all our children are walking together on a level playing field. Let’s give children experiencing foster care thousands of strong shoulders to stand on. Let’s rise above the world they’ve inherited and create a better one. Let’s give them the life they deserve!