From Cuddler to CASA

I have lost count of the number of times someone has told me that they really want to be involvd in foster care, and they really care about foster youth,  but they are not in a season of life where they can be foster parents. They wonder how they can help.

How can you make a difference in the life of a foster youth without being a foster parent?

There are a number of ways to answer that question, and my guest in Episode 17 of A Fostered Life Podcast talks about two of them. Laura was a volunteer cuddler in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for years before being introduced to a desperate need in the foster care system after caring for one particular baby for several months. She went through the training and eventually became a CASA – a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

Over the six-plus years Laura has spent as a CASA, she has served over twenty-three children, and in today’s episode, she’s going to share what that experience has been like and what you might expect if you are considering becoming a CASA.

I am so grateful for the work that Laura and others have done and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

The Evolution of A Fostered Life

As 2019 comes to a close, I have been doing a lot of looking back at the year behind me, and I’m also thinking a lot about the year ahead. I thought I would share some of my journey with you, since you are here and obviously interested in foster care and, more specifically, foster parenting.

In July of 2014, I was six months in to being a foster parent. It was hard, to say the least. There was *so much* I did not know. Like many foster parents, I was well-meaning, determined to give the kids in my care a good home and a good life—and completely unprepared for the roller coaster that defines the world of foster care, for everyone involved (kids, parents, foster parents, extended family members all around, etc.) I made a lot of mistakes early on. Not knowing much at all about how childhood trauma affects brain development and emotional regulation, I treated my son like someone who should know better. Not having tools for supporting reunification efforts, I stumbled my way through showing support for my kids’ mom. Not knowing too many other foster parents, I felt like a terrible mother when I didn’t know how to help my kids as they were struggling.
I started looking around online to see if I could find some other people whom I could relate to, with whom I could find some camaraderie, and it wasn’t there. (Well, if it was, I couldn’t find it.) I was lonely, disillusioned, and completely stressed out.

So I did what I do: I started something 🙂

I started a YouTube channel. I began sharing the things I was learning from my parenting coach, trauma classes I was taking, therapists I was seeing (both for myself and my child), and books I was reading.

And as my channel grew, I started hearing from people. I started receiving messages from people all over the world! Australia, New Zealand, England, Poland, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, and beyond, not to mention all over the U.S.

My YouTube resources are being used in universities to train new social workers. My videos are shown in foster parent trainings across the country. Last year, I was invited to speak at a conference for social workers in Poland (which I did via video). I was hired by Arizona’s department of child welfare to record all of their new foster parent orientation videos. I’ve been interviewed by two different radio personalities in the past month, invited on to share my heart for everyone involved in the world of foster care. And I continue to respond to as many email and Facebook and Instagram messages as I can.

Because it was getting hard to keep up with messages, I started a blog a few years back. I began addressing questions I was receiving in blog posts rather than just to individuals who wrote, so I could offer some support more broadly.

But it all felt so one-sided, so one-directional. I needed community with other foster parents, and it was really hard to participate in the brick-and-mortar support groups that meet once a month. I needed more! So, at the beginning of 2019, I launched The Flourishing Foster Parent—an online community of new, prospective, and experienced foster parents. I host weekly “Coaching Calls” that are live for all members, where we explore a particular topic relevant to foster parents. Often, I invite experts in fields related to foster care, experienced foster parents, and former foster youth to be our guest speakers on these calls. Sometimes the calls are just a time for the members of FFP to catch up and check in with one another—to share trials and triumphs with others who get it. And sometimes it’s just me talking about a particular topic, with time for others to share their own insights. These calls are usually recorded and made available in a library of resources available to all members of FFP.

This past summer, I launched a podcast as well. A Fostered Life Podcast is free to all, and is a place where I explore the various facets of foster care through the voices of people who participate in the system. I have interviewed former foster youth (FFY), social workers, foster parents, trauma therapists, and authors, trying to help educated and inspire people to do better for kids in foster care, the families they come from, and the foster parents who care for them during their time in transition.

With the exception of The Flourishing Foster Parent, which people pay $20/month to be part of, and the work I did for AZ, I offer most of this for free—YouTube, my blog, and my new podcast.

I do it because foster parenting is a hard and lonely world. Connecting with other foster parents does not happen easily—people don’t walk around with “Foster Parent” written on their t-shirts (usually!)

I also do it because foster parents need to do better, and a huge part of DOING better is KNOWING better. I do it because, as I have heard from so many people over the years, there is not much out there like this, and it’s really helping foster parents do a better job of being foster parents.

And, let’s face it, I also do it because I’m an Enneagram 1 with a strong 2 wing—a reformer by nature with a strong instinct to help. I guess I can’t help myself—I’m wired this way!

I love offering all of this at no cost to people. But the fact is that I put many, many, many hours into writing, recording, editing, posting, and creating content for foster parents. So this past year, I started a Patreon page.

If what I’ve described above sounds like something you think is valuable and worthwhile, and if it sounds like something you’d like to support, would you consider becoming a patron of A Fostered Life by pledging a monthly investment? You can pledge anything from $1/month or higher.

I’m going to keep doing this whether I get paid for it or not. But the income I receive will help me do more, and do it better. While historically I have created content as I’ve been able to find time here and there, one goal for the new year is to schedule dedicated hours for this work. That will mean outsourcing more, and that costs money. Software, recording equipment, editing help, hosting, design, occasional babysitting, and other services will be necessary to devote the time it will take to make this resource something I can offer more consistently, more broadly.

If you appreciate my work with A Fostered Life, please consider supporting me with a financial pledge. I am grateful for my patrons and looking forward to what the new year holds!

When Foster Parents Fight for Reunification (Podcast Episode 9)

One of the things many people say when they hear that I’m a foster parent is, “I couldn’t imagine getting attached to a child and then having to give them back.” While I can appreciate that people are just expressing their honest feelings, the truth is, that sentiment shows a total lack of understanding about the main point of foster care, which is precisely to love a child to the point of getting attached and then “giving them back” to their parents.

Reunification is the first goal of foster care. When a child is removed from their parents, usually the plan is to provide a safe and loving and nurturing home for them while their parents do the hard work of getting to a place where they can safely parent their children again. It’s messy. It’s an emotional roller coaster. And it’s not always possible. Just over half of children in foster care will be reunified. The rest will be raised by relatives, adopted by foster parents, or remain in foster care until they “age out.” 

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that foster parents can play a crucial role in supporting reunification, and in today’s podcast, I’m speaking with a fellow foster parent named Lauren who did just that. The focus of today’s episode is how foster parents can be intentional and proactive in supporting the mothers (and/or in some cases fathers) of the children in their care, championing their efforts to get their children back.

Let me be very clear, though, before we launch into this conversation: this is often the hardest part of foster parenting. The emotional toll is high, and the grief a foster family experiences after reunification is real. 

I’m grateful that Lauren shared from her experiences with me, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

If you’re interested in supporting my work at A Fostered Life, please go my Patreon page, where you can become a patron. Just one dollar a month helps offset the cost of producing these resources and enables me to offer them freely to new and prospective foster parents, and I’m grateful for the support of my patrons.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash