LJWorld.com weblogs Notes from John
Parents helping parents
Being a parent of a child in foster care is difficult. This family crisis is accompanied by feelings of anger, guilt, shame or failure. Then there is the stigma. Many people paint these parents with a broad brush. They must all be sadistic abusers. Who wants to say that the reason that their child is not living at home is because he/she is in the custody of SRS? Of course some parents are just mean and don't think that there is a problem. Then there are those with uncontrolled mental illness or substance abuse that prevents them from being adequate parents. Some parents have children with mental illness that exhibit behavior that is virtually unmanageable. Poverty, domestic violence and homelessness are just a few additional family problems. There are a host of reasons that children are placed in foster care.The problems resulting in children being placed out of home are not resolved quickly. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) reports that last year 2337 children were reunified with their families but only 57% of children in foster care were returned within one year. With the stigma, lengthy involvement with SRS, the court and other service providers there are still a group of Kansas parents who have 'been there' and are reaching out to try to help other parents experiencing the same difficulties. They are even helping SRS and other service providers to be as responsive as possible.The Kansas Family Advisory Network (KFAN) is such a group. Their vision is to have a statewide network of family members who are partners in child welfare (www.kfan.org). One example of their work is the Family Navigator Program. Parents who have had children in foster care become partners to parents newly experiencing this stressful situation. The partner helps by explaining what to expect because they have been in the same situation. Currently KFAN only has resources to provide this service in Cherokee and Reno counties.Another project is the Family Planner. This is a three ring notebook of all the paperwork regarding a family's case. It includes a list of everyone involved with the case along with phone numbers. With the involvement of SRS, court, schools, mental health centers and social service providers this can be quite a list. The Planner also includes court orders and meeting dates with actions taken. An important feature is a space for parents to record their own thoughts about meetings, hearings and other events. The Planner may seem like a small thing but one frequently forgotten in stressful times. The ability to easily retrieve this information to recall what has been written or said is a powerful tool since those inside the system don't always share this same information effectively. This tool can help parents hold key actors accountable.KFAN also works on the statewide level to help improve Kansas child welfare. I have the pleasure of serving on a statewide SRS committee with Ruth Heitsman who is one of the founders of KFAN. Ruth is a passionate child welfare advocate who speaks forcefully for parents. At the same time she pushes for better services and outcomes for foster children. KFAN is a new organization struggling to obtain resources to expand. Hopefully their vision of being a statewide leader in child welfare will be realized soon.