Just three days shy of turning five, she was dropped off to live with us. We were her second placement. From the moment she stepped into our home, all she talked about was her upcoming birthday. She couldn’t wait. It was something for her to look forward to. Birthdays are fixed. It doesn’t change.
Two days later, one day before her fifth birthday, I received a phone call from the court informing me that she had a court hearing the next day (on her birthday) and that she must be present. A court transportation had been arranged and ordered to pick her up at 8am on her birthday morning.
This was not okay for me. I knew how disappointed she would have been to find out that she would have to spend her birthday at court. Furthermore, her mom was not going to be present. I was determined that if possible, she would spend her fifth birthday at a tea party as planned. Through hours of phone calls,sympathetic ears, lots of prayers, tenacity, and finding the key players who have decision making power, I was able to get them to not mandate her appearance at the court.
Situations like this is not abnormal in fostering.
It happens all the time in the world of fostering. Last minute notifications are common. Court dates change. Visitation hours get switched at the eleventh hour. The constant movement in the foster care system can make anyone feel overwhelmed. It can feel so defeating as you quickly realize that there are so many things outside of your control.
But in midst of the fluctuation and the unpredictable nature that is too common in fostering, how do we not get defeated? How do we see ourselves not only as foster parents, but as advocates? Can foster parents be effective advocates when so many decisions are made without our knowledge or input?
My answer to all these questions is Yes.
There are key players in the world of fostering and advocacy. Knowing who they are and how they can advocate for your foster child is essential to effective advocacy.
Collaborate with Foster Child’s Lawyer:
When your foster child arrives in your home, make sure to get the name and contact information of the lawyer assigned to your foster child. This person has been assigned by the court to represent and advocate on behalf of your foster child. Collaborate with him or her to make sure that your child’s needs and wishes are heard and made known to the court.
You should receive a snail mail letter, a phone call, or an email from the lawyer after a few days of placement. But, if you don’t hear anything, after a week, initiate the contact. You can ask the child’s social worker for the information. I usually call first, then follow-up with an email. Your initiation communicates that you are a caring foster parent who takes your foster child’s needs and voice seriously, and that you will make sure your child is represented well.
If you have questions, ask them. Do not hesitate to ask. If they cannot tell you, they will let you know.
Maintain a regular communication with the lawyer. If there are changes in the child’s behavior, if the child cries every night for his mom or dad, write to the lawyer and let her know. Invite the child’s lawyer to remember your foster child by adding a photo or two, so that her client is not just a case or a number, but a precious child.
Partner with Child’s Social Worker:
Sometimes, I as a foster mom can forget that social workers are human beings who have lives outside of their role as social workers. They do go on vacations. They experience family emergencies. They are responsible for not only your foster child, but many more. Therefore, some may not be quick to respond.
I have been very fortunate to have had more social workers who really cared and were responsive than not. But, I have also had those who were not so responsive and I had to persist, sometimes to the point that I felt like a pest. But, in general, when you are respectful and put in the effort to establish a good working relationship, they can be the child’s strongest and most important advocate.
The best mode of communication is email or by text. In an emergency, I might leave a message, but in general, their voicemail boxes are full! Written forms of communication provide documentation so it is a safe way to communicate with one another.
Give regular updates on the child’s progress. If there are issues that come up with the biological parents, be quick to communicate and ask for help or advice. Sometimes, I would send them photos of the foster kids in my care just as a way to communicate and stay in touch so that they know that things are going well. Often, they only get contacted when things are not going well, so make the effort to let them know when things are going really well too.
Seek Outside Help and Resources:
There are many amazing nonprofits and public service agencies dedicated to helping foster kids. From CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) to Children’s Law Center to many other agencies, they are dedicated to serving and advocating on behalf of the foster children. Don’t be shy to seek their advice and assistance.
You might find yourself in situations where you may need to consult outside agencies to help you advocate for your child’s needs. Whether it is to know how to best navigate the world of IEP (Individualized Education Program) to having a representation at the meeting, you can look to outside advocacy groups to help you advocate for your foster child.
Partner with the Biological Parents:
If the biological parents are open and willing, help them advocate for their child and for themselves. Motivated parents will work with you. They will do everything in their power to ensure their child’s success despite their failure and mistakes. It gives them an opportunity to learn with you how to best care for their child.
Use the JV-290 Form
The JV-290 form can be used by foster parents to offer information about your foster child directly to the judge. This form allows you to give your voice concerning your foster child. Furthermore, you can use it to give voice to your foster child. It is well worth the time and hassle to make sure that it gets to the court in time for the hearings. Straight from the Heart provides some helpful information. Click here.
Be the Advocate Your Foster Child Needs:
Our foster children come to us in need of individuals who truly care for their success. When we see ourselves as more than just foster parents, but as advocates, we can make a great impact in their future. So much has been taken away from them. But, you can give them back a sense of power by voicing what you observe, what you consider to be the best, and what your child shares.
The foster children in your care cannot afford to have you feel powerless and defeated by the system. They need you to fight, protect, and serve them.
Remember that you have the power to impact a child’s life forever. To your best ability, advocate for your foster child. Don’t be afraid to roar when you see that his needs are being neglected by the people in the system. Keep them accountable to doing their job of advocating for the best interest of the child.
Be relentless about asking for what your foster child needs. Protect and provide for him/her as though they are your own. You have power because you have a voice. It is a matter of you choosing to use it, and using it wisely and strategically. Eventually, your child’s voice will be heard if you don’t stop advocating.
**This is lesson 4 of 10 lessons on effective fostering. You don’t want to miss Lesson 1: Know your capacity and limits, Lesson 2: Get comfortable with ambiguity and ask for clarity, and Lesson 3:How to get the support you need. ** If you found this post helpful, please share with your fostering community and those who are considering fostering!