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Make the most of National Foster Care Month 2024

Updated: May 22

A group of teens walking, seen from behind

At GOBHI Foster Care, we have over 60 certified therapeutic foster families across Oregon and we couldn’t be prouder of them. Let’s hear a round of applause for the way these folks have volunteered their time and their homes!

April showers bring…

May Foster Care! The 2024 theme of this national awareness month is “Engaging Youth. Building Supports. Strengthening Opportunities,” and focuses on equity in the child welfare system. Specifically, around how youth leave it. 

It may seem a little counterintuitive to focus on youth exiting foster care. But the idea is to engage foster youth early and often throughout care, to improve their experience both during and after. 

Our foster parents do a great job of this, aided by specialized training and support from GOBHI staff. It's not just on foster parents, though; all members of child welfare share this responsibility to foster youth. This includes but is not limited to: the parents, family members, child welfare and related professionals, CASA volunteers, mentors, policymakers, and other members of the community who help children and youth find permanent homes and connections. 

Transitioning to adulthood is a critical time for young people. Of the over 391,000 children and youth in foster care in the US, around 52% of them age out of foster care without achieving permanence first. For Black youth that jumps to 58%; for Hispanic and Latino youth, it’s 57%. In 2021, 77% of eligible foster youth (ages 14 through 21) across the country left care without receiving the federally funded services for adulthood and independent living. 

The troubling fact is, youth who transition out of care without strong connections are more likely to become homeless, be diagnosed with mental health disorders, suffer from substance abuse, and become involved in the juvenile justice system. Youth should be able to leave foster care with access to holistic support! That means resources for the full scope of their needs, as a whole person and not only their physical (or only social, or only mental) wellbeing. The more connections foster youth have with these resources, the more successful they'll be in their lives and communities.  

So how do we make that happen? First, it’s important to remember that youth and young adults are experts on their own lives. Getting them authentically involved in their own welfare planning process as equals rather than recipients of your service is important and empowering. It fosters a sense of investing in themselves, leading to better well-being, healthy development, and improved outcomes in the long run. It also requires a thoughtful investment of time and effort on behalf of everyone who works with the youth, with every interaction, through the entirety of their care. 

The age range for starting this kind of engagement is lower than you might think!

“Even if a youth is 9, 10, 11, 12, they’ll understand, ‘Hey, we are going to have a court hearing and things will be talked about. Is there anything you would like us to talk to the judge about for you?’”

—Former youth in foster care (source)

Start this meaningful engagement as early as the youth is able. It helps young people build upon their existing skills, including reasoning, decision-making, self-regulation, and more. The more they get to speak up about what they need, the more they can be connected to specific services, supports, and community resources that address those needs. It also means they know what’s going on with their own care—their own world, which for foster youth can be and/or feel very volatile. Knowing that, it's easier for youth to cooperate with their caregivers.

Food for thought! Tune in to the National #FosterCareMonth campaign on social media so you can help share this important message.

How do foster parents do it?

Fostering is incredibly rewarding. It can also be emotionally, intellectually, and physically demanding. Successful foster parents:

  • Invest in developing their compassion resilience. This is the ability to maintain emotional, mental, and physical well-being while responding compassionately to others’ distress.

  • Have a strong sense of self, and can separate themselves from a kiddo's bad days while still providing support and connection for the child.

  • Keep in mind that doing what's best for the kiddo will likely include saying goodbye, because the goal of foster care is to reunite families of origin whenever possible. There's grief in that, but also the joy of providing for a child though a very vulnerable part of their life.

Mental health is an essential component of both overall health and successful foster parenting. Our therapeutic program supports foster youth in learning and building up important social, emotional regulation, and executive function skills (to name a few). We encourage our foster parents to practice and polish those skills themselves—not just to be good role models but for their own well-being! 

How do foster parents do it? Successful foster parents remember (for both the youth and themselves): Allow for downtime. Small steps are okay! Ask yourself, "How important is it?"

Self-care is important to remain resilient in such challenging work. Sometimes being a foster parent can feel like you’re a frog in a pot of water that’s slowly coming to a boil. Too much stress in the home, whether it’s weighing on the parent or the youth or both, is too much to resilience your way through. This is tough work, so it’s expected! We have a 24-7 crisis line available for this exact reason, and advise our families as needed on ways to help turn down the heat:

  • Allow for downtime, because treading water isn’t the same as stagnating. 

  • Small steps are okay! Working with a kiddo doesn’t always have to be about the big strides. A string of successes with easy goals can help build confidence for all involved and make everyone feel more confident going forward.

  • Ask yourself, "How important is it?" Imposing your will on the situation to get a child to meet expectations is a common parenting technique. (The Collaborative Problem Solving® model our program uses calls this a Plan A approach.) But if the kiddo can’t meet those expectations, for whatever reason, it can stir up more challenging behaviors as they get frustrated. In these situations, we ask our foster parents to consider their own expectations and ease up enough to take the kiddo’s developmental level and skills into account. 

Effective foster parents provide themselves and their family with the needed support and resources to address stress. We call these protective factors, because it’s the lack of those things in stressful situations that leads to burnout or worsened trauma. Since a lot of foster youth come into the system with trauma history, protective factors are great! Foster parents who can set those up for themselves are in good practice with this. 

We also encourage our families to take breaks to recharge. Full-time foster parents have two paid days off every month, made possible by our part-time relief parents. Relief families, in turn, can tailor their availability to accept youth to fit their schedule and capacity. 

In a pinch, we have that 24-7 call and text line available for urgent concerns. Between that and frequent visits for skill-building with youth, no GOBHI foster family ever has to feel on their own.

Can you do it too?

It’s easy to look at all this and say, “I’m not cut out to be a foster parent.” But the truth is, no one is perfect! Imperfect is more relatable anyway, and can help with meeting youth where they’re at. 

Humans never stop learning. Sometimes GOBHI staff members even attend courses alongside new or recertifying families to stay up to date. Prior parenting experience isn't required, because you'll learn more every day. Some foster parents have even commented that they wish they'd had this training before raising their own biological kids! Every class or seminar is an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth.

If you’re worried about getting too attached to a youth, keep in mind that attachments are vital for social and emotional health. It’s part of the human experience, and part of why we hold monthly Power Hours for foster parents. They’re a chance to connect with each other, discussing different evidence-based practices and perspectives. Parents get training credit, and sharing experiences and support lightens the load a little for everyone.

Fostering is a big commitment, and it’s important to know what you’re getting into. If it’s something you’re considering, that’s great! Check out our FAQ page. Ask us about anything else that comes to mind either by phone or email or attending our virtual Info Sessions on the first Tuesday of every month. Do lots of research and soul-searching. Chat with experienced foster parents who can walk you through a day in the life. The more you know what to expect from the certification process and receiving a placement, the better! 

Don’t know anyone with foster experience? Foster Plus’ Faces of Foster Care series features testimonial videos from parents around Oregon. We are one of ten therapeutic foster care agencies in the state who have banded together to provide more coverage and homes for youth in need of more support than traditional care is able to provide.


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