Before Becoming a Mother
Before becoming a mother and traveling full-time I had many kids that I referred to as my own. They were kids I worked with – young kids born with drugs in their system who I picked up from the hospital, they were kids of parents who never had parents of their own, they were teenagers who called gangs their families and kids who had been in more foster homes then the years they had been alive. I worked in the child welfare system in various ways in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado and Texas for a total of twelve years. And every city, every state, it was the same – lack of financial resources, lack of foster homes, lack of resources to maintain foster homes and support them, lack of resources for birth families, high turnaround in every role in the system, lack of education and understanding and often resistance to change. And there are also many, many wonderful people out there working hard to change all of those things one small step at a time.
Before becoming a mother I always thought I would continue to work at least on a contract basis or part time. Social work was more than just a job to me, it was part of my being, a passion and I truly loved it. When I became a mother it suddenly became clear to me that I couldn’t be a social worker and a mother at the same time – at least not right away, full-time or in the way I would want to be. I wanted to give my all to my daughter AND to social work and while some folks may be able to do that I knew I couldn’t. I’ve got no mama hustle, I have no desire to work myself day and night at the expense of myself and my family. Sometimes something in your life has to give a bit to make room for something else. The last few years has been that time for me.
So here I am traveling, and being a mother and wife. Here I am sometimes struggling with my decision to live this traveling life when there is so much need in our country. Here I am not ever regretting my decision to “only” be a mom but often missing social work. Here I am starting to try to figure out how I can slowly weave that part of myself back in. Here I am writing a blog post trying to do a tiny part to make a difference. Here I am asking you to consider doing a tiny part too.
Educate yourself about the child welfare system – its complicated and not necessarily fun but it is eye opening and might help you realize what you can offer. You can start here – Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Start a conversation. Be curious, ask questions, talk about it.
Donate money or in-kind goods to your local foster care agencies or agencies that support foster youth and families. – Agencies are always in need of something to support the youth and families they work with year round, not just during the holidays. Start by doing a Google search for “foster care agency” with the name of your location, and then reach out via phone or email to local organizations. You can ask specifically about something you might have that you want to donate (for example Adam and I recently donated our barely used bikes to the local CASA chapter here in Montana.) or you can ask what their need is – maybe they have a kiddo they would love to send to an after school activity or summer camp but don’t have the funds, maybe they have a foster mother who is struggling with gas money because she is driving far multiple days a week to take a youth to therapeutic services or a school district that better fits his needs, maybe they could use a gift card to a grocery store so that a parent working towards reunification can prepare a special birthday meal for their child. There is always a need.
Donate your time/services – If you have a special skill or provide a community service contact your local foster care agency and ask if you can provide it free of charge. This can be providing food for a foster care training if you are in food services, pro-bono therapeutic services if you are a licensed therapist, free art classes or gym memberships if you own a business. This can be teaching a foster youth to knit, organizing a bake sale, helping to recruit foster parents. The possibilities are endless.
Support foster parents in your community – Without foster parents there would be no foster care. They are everything and they don’t get enough support. Start here – 10 Ways to Help A Foster Parent. This list is written by two foster moms who adopted two brothers from the foster care system. Their blog is honest and inspiring. And while I don’ t know them in real life I know many, many foster parents who are just like them. Recently these women made a big decision to adopt their boys big sister and they reached out to their community to ask for help. You can read their story here.
Provide support to a youth aging out of the system. There are countless youth aging out of the foster care system and they leave without the support they deserve. Contact your local foster care agency and see how you can help. Can you provide an internship or job opportunity? Can you mentor them in a field of work they are interested in? Can you provide temporary free or low rent housing until they can get on their feet? Can you help them fill out college applications or enroll in a job training program? Don’t have the time but want to help financially or with in-kind goods. Consider donating furniture for a new apartment, a car, a yearly pass for public transportation, a computer.
Advocate for youth in the system by becoming a CASA worker. CASA is a national organization that provides advocates for children in the child welfare system. These volunteers are court appointed and help advocate for a youths best interest. Kids who have CASA workers are more likely to find permanency, receive more services and the appropriate services and have better school outcomes.
Become a mentor – One of the main factors of a youths success is having a consistent, responsible caring adult in their life. If you are willing and able to commit, be that person. Most areas have at least one organization that provides mentors to youth in care and there is usually a high need for mentors – especially those who want to mentor older youth in the system.
Consider becoming a respite or emergency provider. In most, if not all, communities there is a need for people who are willing to go through the process of becoming a foster parent to only provide respite for other foster parents. These respite parents can take a youth for a few days while a foster parent has to go on a work trip, becomes ill or has another emergency, they can provide a few hours of afternoon supervision if a foster parent has to work late or go to a meeting for another foster child, they can help with transportation. They can take an emergency placement of a child to avoid them being sent to a shelter, group home or residential facility.
Learn more about and consider becoming a foster parent. Contact your local agency and learn more about the process and responsibilities. Attend an orientation. Ask to speak with other foster parents and get their perspective. Don’t make this decision lightly.