Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/05/23

Photo from Foster Care & Adoption Resource Center website

God’s work continues. Last month, to mark National Foster Care Month, I spoke with Kathleen Paydo, author of Fostering Love: A Glimpse Into Foster Care, about her personal involvement with foster care as a foster parent (along with her husband Ron and with the support of their four biological children). She recently contacted me to let me know that June is National Unification Month, a time set aside to shine a light on and celebrate the ongoing efforts to, whenever possible and advisable, reunite foster children with their biological families. It was certainly worth another conversation.

JWK: Good to check in with you again. So, tell me, what is the goal of National Unification Month?
Kathleen Paydo: Thank you for taking an interest in the importance of family reunification as it relates to the foster care world. My book Fostering Love: A Glimpse into Foster Care addresses many factors of foster care including the important work that goes into reunifying foster children with their biological families.
As you know foster parents have the job of being a bridge for the foster child who comes into foster care as a result of some circumstance that is out of their control. Whether the reason is abuse, neglect, exposure to drugs, trafficking, or domestic violence – to name a few – children need a safe place to land.
Our life’s work as foster parents is to help identify the foster child’s physical wounds and emotional needs. We then strive to help them recover from their traumas and grow through these experiences. The ultimate goal is to begin the journey towards recovery. Contact with the foster child’s biological family starts soon after the child is placed in our home. The goal of foster care is almost always reunification. Many foster parents dig deep to actively help the child’s family heal, grow and recover.
JWK: How often is the goal of family reunification achieved?
KP: At times this works well and the foster child can return home to the environment they came from with better safety nets in place for their protection and assurances from the courts that the home situation is more stable and safe than when the child came into care. Of course this is a best case scenario.

Other times children will be placed with a kin relation, of which there are two types. In a traditional kin placement the child is related to the individual, willing to accept them into their care, by blood or marriage. In a nontraditional kin placement the child is allowed to be placed with an adult that they have a significant bond with. This could be a neighbor, teacher, coach, or friend. All kinship placements go through background checks. Approximately 50% of foster children will reunify with their family.

JWK: Is family reunification as a goal something new when it comes to the foster care system?
KP: Though the goal of foster care now is almost always to reunify the family this was not always the case. Foster care of old is not the same as foster care today. In the past children were sent west on orphan trains from big eastern cities that were filled with parentless children – over 120,000 of them – to work the country’s newly settled farms. History has shown us that most of the children were not treated well, were separated from their siblings, and were basically treated as indentured slaves. Reunification was not the goal of the program.
We have learned a great deal from the past where the best plan of action now is to place sibling groups together, work diligently to help strengthen struggling families and get children placed back in the homes and communities where they came from. Children who can keep bonds with parents or other close relatives have fewer behavior problems while in foster care and a better outcome overall as adults.
JWK: Once the foster child is reunited with his or her family are the foster parents pretty much out of the picture?
KP: This does not mean that foster parents abandon their foster children when the work to stabilize the child is done. Even when reunification is achieved, most modern foster parents try to maintain relationships with their alumni foster children in attempts to keep the home situation, wherever that may be, strong. This is commonly referred to as shared parenting and is a practice where foster parents and biological parents of the child have a relationship that allows for the child to succeed with regular connections with both families and that allows for support and good emotional bonding to continue for the child.
In plain English this translates to the fact that foster children can have difficult behaviors. Their behaviors are often difficult because they suffer brain changes from the traumas they are exposed to. This leads to developmental delays and many other challenges. So, having an extra set of helping hands by way of shared parenting is a huge win because there are several adults working together to raise the child up with a strong foundation all while being reunited with their family and community. This is why foster care done well can make such a big difference in the life of a child and have better outcomes for our communities as well.

JWK: That’s great work you’re involved in. I wish you and all the foster parents out there continued success.
KP: Thank you for the opportunity to share this important information with you and your readers, I appreciate the help in getting the word out!

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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