The Children’s Bureau’s Foster Parent Program Helps Children Feel Accepted
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
There was a time years ago when foster parents were advised not to attach to the children they fostered because the attachment followed by separation was presumed to be detrimental to the child. Now research shows the opposite to be true.
“What’s most important for kids is to have at least one caring adult in their life, and sometimes that’s their foster parent who is there for a period of time,” says Brooke Clawson, Vice President of Adoption & Foster Care at the Children’s Bureau in Indianapolis.
Clawson notes that bonding has a huge impact on foster children’s ability to form future relationships.
“When a child learns to attach to a caregiver in foster care, that’s a transferable skill that he can use going forward with friends, coworkers, partners and family,” she adds.
According to the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), at the end of July 2017, there were 104 children in foster care in Hendricks County — statewide, that number exceeds 15,500. The Foster Parent program of the Children’s Bureau recruits and educates foster families, then helps families through the process of becoming a licensed foster parent.
“You have to remember that in addition to any abuse or neglect that these children may have suffered, they were also removed from their primary caregivers, which is jarring,” Clawson says. “We help foster parents understand how that affects a child’s emotions, behavior, and the actual hard wiring of the brain.”
A case manager is assigned to each child to ensure that their needs are being met. For instance, is she visiting with her birth family? Is she registered for school? Does she have a learning disability that needs addressed?
To ensure that families have 24/7 access to a case manager, they also offer after-hours services.
“Most crises, tantrums and meltdowns don’t happen between 9 and 5. They happen at bedtime or in the middle of the night,” Clawson says. “It’s reassuring for a parent to know that if they need to call a case manager for support and guidance at 11 p.m., they can.”
The Children’s Bureau provides comprehensive support and education for all phases of the foster and adoptive journey by offering both formal and informal training. For example, if a child is diagnosed with autism, case managers educate the foster parents on the disorder, explain how best to approach the child, and share any community resources that might be of help.
“The most important piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, is the relationship we develop with the foster families,” Clawson says.
She mentions all of the red tape and hoops that must be navigated during the licensing process, including references, background checks, home visits, logging of training hours and even providing the immunization records of pets.
“We are there with them, holding their hand along this journey,” she says.
Clawson suspects that some folks shy away from pursuing foster parenting because the idea overwhelms them.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, I could never do that,’ yet those same people often end up being the best foster parent,” says Clawson, noting that one doesn’t have to be married or hold a certain religious belief to become a foster parent. “We’re just looking for people who want to wrap these children with love and care.”
When foster moms and dads provide that love and support, children are transformed. Clawson recalls working with a teenager who was placed with a foster family for five years. Though she ultimately graduated from high school and aged out of the system, she chose to attend a local community college and leased an apartment close to her foster parents because she so adored them.
“They are absolutely family in every sense of the word. They just aren’t a legal family,” says Clawson, who acknowledges that when someone commits to fostering, there’s always that risk of heartbreak. She’s quick to add, however, that there’s also an opportunity for great reward.
“Foster parents plant seeds in their children,” Clawson says. “There’s no telling how they will grow.”
For more information on the Children’s Bureau, visit childrensbureau.org.