The child welfare system refers to the array of services and programs designed to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing. Most families become involved in this system after suspected child abuse or neglect, also referred to as “child maltreatment.” The Federal Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child maltreatment as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of the parent or caregiver that results in serious harm (abandonment, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse) or which presents the threat of serious harm.” Any concerned person can report suspected child maltreatment to their local child protective services (in Los Angeles County, the Department of Children and Family Services or DCFS), but mandated reporters (those who are required by law, such as doctors or teachers) generate most reports. When allegations of child maltreatment are substantiated and it is determined that a child cannot safely remain in the care of his or her family, that child is placed in foster care with relatives or resource parents. The goal of foster care is to provide children with a safe, nurturing environment while parents or caregivers improve their parenting capacities and remove any threats to their child’s safety and wellbeing to ultimately reunify
A child enters foster care every two minutes in the United States; there are over 400,000 children currently in care. In Los Angeles County, approximately 20,000 children and youth are in foster care at any given time, making this one of the largest foster care systems in the country. Children remain in foster care temporarily until they are able to safely reunify with their family, until they are adopted, or until they “age out” of foster care and transition into adulthood. On average, children remain in care for approximately 20 months. Older children, sibling sets, children with developmental disabilities, and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBTQ) tend to remain in care longer and are also less likely to be adopted. It is imperative to find safe and nurturing families for all children in foster care, and we are committed to championing this cause. But we need the help and partnership of quality resource families.
A resource family consists of a parent or parents who provide short- or long-term care and safe harbor for children in foster care while their family receives family strengthening services (referred to as reunification services). Their role is one of the most vital in the system, working tirelessly to provide these children with a greater future. They are rich with knowledge, life skills, and social capital, all of which can be used to help shore up a child’s future opportunities. While there is an ongoing need for resource families in general, there is a particular need for resource parents to provide emergency care, respite care, care for sibling sets and older youth, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.
When children are removed from their families, they are often placed with a resource family on an emergency basis – for up to 21 days – until an appropriate home, ideally with relatives, can be secured. Resource parents providing emergency placement must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they must be prepared to focus on and meet the immediate medical, social, emotional and educational needs of the children joining their home. Many emergency placements are for younger children, newborns and toddlers, who have experienced pre-natal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol.
Resource parents can support one another by providing respite care for each other’s children. Respite care is for a short amount of time only – between 1 day and 1 week – and meant to allow resource parents time for self-care or family emergencies. For those who are not yet ready to commit to fostering a child, respite care may also be a good starting point.
While foster care is intended to be temporary solution for children in need of a nurturing home until they can safely reunify with their families, adoption is a lifelong and legally binding relationship between children and their resource parents. All families are required to be certified for both foster care and adoption, a dual certification often referred to as “fost-adopt.” This allows children to be adopted by their resource families, who have already nurtured and loved the children in their care for some period of time, in the event that reunification is not possible. This further reduces the number of placement changes, as well as the additional trauma that comes with a placement change, that children in foster care experience.
Extraordinary Families also welcomes people who are going through the Independent Adoption process to attend our Adoption Specific Workshops and to make use of our Adoption Home Study, Post Placement and Post Adoption Services. We will work closely with your attorney or out of state agency to make your experience a positive one.
Becoming a resource parent may be the most challenging and difficult journey you ever embark on, but it may also be the most rewarding and life fulfilling. It requires flexibility, patience, a willingness to learn and grow, a willingness to be a part of a team, and the ability to provide a safe, stable, nurturing, and loving home for a child. Most importantly, however, it requires commitment to include a child as a member of your family, creating a sense of belonging – whether that child remains in your care for one day or lifelong.
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