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National Foster Care Month Is So Very ImportantPosted Date: 05/19/2017
By: Tiffany Wright, DCFS Foster Care Manager
Someone asked me why National Foster Care Month is so important to me, well, not just me because so many people are impacted by those words “foster care.” It has been important to me since I started this journey one day in early November 2009, and that day my life changed forever. My first day on the job as a Family Service Worker (FSW), the position that is on the frontlines of protecting children and helping families, I shadowed a seasoned worker as she removed a 1-year-old from her mother due to the mother’s dangerous drug use. I didn’t initially comprehend the magnitude of what had just happened. (Remember I am fresh out of college, new to Arkansas, green, green, green and never even knew this child welfare world existed.) I spent that night reflecting on mainly the ugly parts of the day – holding this filthy little girl who was crying and reaching for her mom, asking her mom for clothing/diapers and she refused, and feeling stressed for the mother, because I was new and neither of us knew what was going to happen next. I also thought about the worker’s struggle to find a foster home for that this young child. I remember the worker I shadowed said, “The relationships you have with foster parents will make this part of the job either really hard or really easy.”
As a new worker, I didn’t really understand how profound that statement was, but time made it truer than ever. I spent six and half years in White County as a FSW only working foster care cases, and my foster parents were my biggest fans - as I was theirs. We worked as a team. We supported each other, and they worked hard to support me. One foster family would take children in the middle of the night without hesitation or complaint. Another always made my evening home visits around dinner time. The husband and wife would invite me for dinner, which allowed me to share a traditional meal at a table with the entire family. And they always sent me away with leftovers. Of course, foster parents and I had disagreements and would sometimes have to “agree to disagree,” but it didn’t damage the relationship we had, because a mutual respect was held for the investment in the children and families that we were working hard to serve. They knew how much I cared about the children and the families that I served and that decisions always were made with the best interest of the children in mind. Sometimes, the decisions I made didn’t end as I had hoped, and sometimes I had to call my foster families so the children could go back to their home because of that decision. Even so, we maintained a mutual respect, and the foster parents in White County became my support system. I counted on them as much as they counted on me.
So I was thrilled to come to Central Office last May with one of my main goals being supporting foster families. Supporting foster parents is a crucial part of the job of the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and the entire team is working hard to make impactful changes that support foster families. We realize that we cannot do anything without their support, and that we need to do everything we can to make their roles easier. It has been a busy year for me and the rest of the team working toward that vision. We have been working hard on the Foster and Adoptive Provider Portal, which is a wealth of resources for foster parents focused on the children placed in their home. We also have rolled out a mass text messaging option for placement needs. And this week, we held our first luncheon to celebrate foster parents of the year. I felt so honored sitting in the room with these foster parents and listening to their stories of triumph! I am personally challenging all of my DCFS team to continue to wrap their arms around each foster parent in their community. Go the extra mile – even when you are frustrated, tired or burned out – to say thank you again. It makes a world of difference.
Walk for the Waiting 2017, a fundraiser for Project Zero, Immerse Arkansas and The CALL.