A SHIFT CHANGING LIVES IN FOSTER CARE
Jayden is sitting with his mother, reading a book. He doesn’t know the details of court filings, or case numbers, or requirements. He just knows that right now, he is in his mom’s lap, feeling the familiar softness of her sweater, hearing the familiar lilt of her voice… and that they are together.
This is family time. And it’s a crucial piece in foster care’s number one goal: family reunification.
The traumatic experience of being removed from your home and your family is deeply felt by children in foster care. And research shows that, as long as a child is safe, they do best when they can be with their own family.
Getting to that point involves a treatment plan for the parents. They must address the issues that led to the child’s removal. Part of their plan is a required number of visits per week and month.
At DABSJ, a culture change has unlocked a hopeful future for families in foster care. And what Jayden felt is what it’s all about.
To start, some simple adjustments to language that changed the tone: visitation became family time. Case Aides became Family Support Workers. Time was facilitated instead of supervised.
“Family time is time to connect and bond with your family,” said Stacey Williams, DABSJ Family Support Worker Supervisor and a leader in the change. “That’s what this time is dedicated to.”
Going deeper, workers checked everything from procedures to internally held beliefs. How could they embrace a family-first approach? Making the time safe while also as least restrictive as possible for more natural connection time. Offering in-person and virtual sessions to accommodate busy schedules. Partnering with relatives to support the effort. Treating families like you would your own.
As things shifted, engagement steadily increased. Parents felt the difference. Community organizations recognized it. And Stacey, a member of DABSJ’s child welfare team for over 17 years, was honored with the John P. Steketee Child Welfare Advocate of the Year Award from West Michigan Partnership for Children for her efforts in the team’s work.
“It started with just listening,” Stacey said, “to better understand parents and where they are coming from, the things they are doing. We can’t just write off these parents. This is in the best interest of the child. It’s not a simple thing, but when you step back, it actually is.”
It’s as simple as what Jayden felt. This time spent together, so one day, they can stay together.
We believe that kids do best when they’re safe with their own families. Studies show it, too. Reunification is about helping parents get the support and tools they need to make their homes safe and loving. Each time a family is reunified at DABSJ, we ring a bell in celebration!
Family time is a crucial part of maintaining and building bonds during foster care. What happens during family time? Simple activities like sharing a snack, playing a game, and talking. Family time keeps parents and children connected.