BY SUSAN MICHENER SPRACHER
What comes to mind when you think about children who need foster care? The common misconceptions are that all children in foster care have behavior problems or serious medical or mental diagnoses. Beverly Johnson, Chief Program Officer at Lilliput Families says, “It’s time to dispel stereotypes and look at each child’s individual situation.”
Though it is extreme difficulties that have been highlighted, the reality for many foster children is that the commitment of a resource family can make all the difference. Offering a stable environment can greatly affect a positive transition, where children can learn new ways of coping and heal the grief and loss they have experienced. Lilliput Families is matching children with those kinds of homes. Resource parent, Jodi Johnson, said, “I’d raised my daughter, who is now in her 20’s, and felt like I would enjoy raising a teenager. I met ‘L’ who was 12 years old and had been in foster homes the majority of her life. While we were getting to know each other, I was introduced to her older brother, Anthony. We hit it off and decided it would be great if I adopted him. I feel so blessed to have met these children. My advice to you if you’re thinking of adoption is this, it’s not easy, but it is worth it.”
There are approximately 64,000 children waiting for a forever home in California, making resource families critical to eliminate what State and private agencies agree is non-viable long term foster care. “From the minute children enter the child welfare system, the goal is to find them a stable and permanent home as quickly as possible,” says Carol Ramirez, Chief Operating Officer at Lilliput Families, “Gone are the days where children bounced around foster homes, sometimes being placed as many as 15 times.” That means the priority is reunification with parents, guardianship with a relative, or adoption. Resource families are the special people who meet children where they are on the spectrum of reclaiming a permanent home and walk the journey alongside children until they are able to go back home or be adopted.
It is a commitment than may sound overwhelming, but working with Lilliput Families means working with a leader in innovative and successful approaches in foster care and adoptions backed by over 37 years of experience. Lilliput has finalized over 9,000 adoptions. Their effective programs help prospective families every step of the way with training, support networks, and resources to insure a stable and comfortable environment is achieved. “We took all of the parent training classes we could since we had never been parents before. Since we’ve adopted, we have continued to attend classes because we have found them to be so valuable,” said Thomas and Dan Erickson.
Cognizant of the need for educating extended family, Lilliput offers support groups that help members embrace and support the decision to become a resource family. Kinship Support Services help keep siblings together and family connections maintained until reunification can be achieved, or if it cannot, support is given to work towards guardianship or adoption. Relatives can count on tools such as counseling, support groups, family activities, legal referrals, and mentoring. “I wasn’t expecting to be the parent to my two grandchildren, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Linda Brown, a single grandmother, “The classes and social workers helped me understand the best ways to relate to and communicate with my grandkids and by going to the classes and the events they hold, I’ve gotten to know many other grandparents who are raising their grandkids, so now I have a strong support group.”
The mission of Lilliput Families is “to ensure every child has the opportunity to be part of a safe, nurturing, lifelong family.” The importance of this can be seen in the grim statistics for children without forever families:
65% leave care without a place to live, meaning 1 in 5 foster youth will be homeless within one year of ageing out of the system.
45% will not earn a high school diploma.
50% will leave care without job prospects.
70% of inmates in California are former foster children.
Well known to intact families is the fact that children are hardly done being parented by the time they turn 18. There are 25,000 foster children between the ages of ages of 18 and 21 that have to leave foster care to make it on their own. The odds are stacked against them to suddenly live independently, find housing, employment, feed and clothe themselves – often without a high school diploma or job experience. It is not realistic to think these children exist in a silo with no effect on society. In reality, they are members of the community, “What’s magnificent and beautiful about the foster care process is that they’re all our kids. They are all our community. If we put the effort into them, it benefits us all,” said Johnson.
National Adoption Month is in November and focuses on the goal to increase awareness and draw attention and support for the thousands of children and youth in the U.S. foster care system that are waiting for permanent, loving families. Perceptions about being too young, too old, single, or LGBTQ are often incorrect. In fact, you may have exactly what it takes to be a resource family. Lilliput Families is highly experienced in preparing those with a heart for helping children in need. The first step is simply willingness. Attending an information orientation will help you to know if fostering is right for you. These are the children that will someday become the adults in our community; investing in them creates a better future for us all.