When I was 15 my church youth group had an opportunity to volunteer at a local emergency shelter for kids in foster care and seeing these kids endure so much created a desire in me to go into social work. While working in case management at a foster care agency I started to see so many gaps in the system. So many needs were going unmet for children and families and I felt like no one was doing anything to help. And this gap wasn’t just filled with statistics… but rather children and their parents… they were real people.
After years of working with kids and families in foster care, I became discouraged by how many children could not be reunified with their parents. The children that my husband and I brought into our own home were often because they could not be reunified with family. However, one day four years ago a new hope was birthed in me for families because of a woman I met named Steffany.
Something felt different when Steffany reached out. I knew that she was in desperate need of support but I needed to see a parent who was willing to meet me half way in this journey… and Steffany did just that and more. Watching her fall and get back up and seeing her determination to get her kids back inspired me beyond words. To read Steffany’s full story click here.
When I first met Steffany she had the unfortunate experience of working with a very unprofessional social worker. This woman was not doing good Social Work practice and it was in-turn keeping Steffany’s case from progressing. Since I know the ins and the outs of the system, I worked with Steffany to learn her rights.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, things were really difficult over those several years leading up to Steffany’s kids coming home. I believed my role in Steffany’s life was to be a mentor and encourager, so I would try to remind her of how far she had come and that any movement is movement and should be celebrated. I am so proud to say that Steffany’s diligent work has paid off and she is reunited with her children.
Because of women like Steffany I am encouraged and inspired to support bio-parents. I am certified in Empowered to Connect Parent Training and have had the opportunity to teach trauma informed parenting tools to bio-parents. I have been able to offer support to bio-mothers through parent trainings and child welfare advocacy coaching. Many of the bio-parents I have worked with have experienced trauma of their own and are now trying to parent kids of trauma.
As these parents are working the reunification track they are required to learn skills that will help them re-establish healthy boundaries while offering connection with their children as they discipline (not punish) their kids. Steffany became a student of Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) so she could not only break the cycle of addiction but the patterns of unhealthy parenting.
After being a social worker, my husband and I created a non-profit called City Without Orphans. I had a vision to create something that would help fill the gaps I’d seen in the system. I wanted businesses, the government and faith based communities to all be involved. Did you know that one in three families contemplates fostering or adoption but only two percent take action? Knowing this, my husband and I worked to bring awareness to our community about the staggering number of children in the foster care system. We created a workshop called Fostering and Adoption 101 and in eight years City Without Orphans (CWO) has hosted 68 of these three-hour workshops explaining how to begin and what to expect in the foster and adoption process. CWO also acts as a liaison between social services, foster youth and the community by providing post-placement support services to outfit families with tools, resources, and trauma-informed practices. We have helped and encouraged hundreds of families as they have brought children into their homes!
Getting to come alongside foster parents and bio parents by showing them how they can work together to help this child is a beautiful thing. I like to remind foster parents that you can be that one caring person in your child’s bio parent’s life. You don’t need to fix or save them, but rather model to them how to be a healthy parent. Many of the moms I’ve worked with are so hungry for this because they did not get these kinds of relationships growing up. If you are working with a parent who is willing to show effort of any kind, meet them there with grace and compassion. Understand that they are often a product of their traumatic childhood but this does not have to define them. Help them and encourage them to keep pressing on to get their children back.