Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday cheer

Every year a group of Iowa women put together a pretty special gift for Iowa's waiting children. Formerly called Circle of Support and now known as Herizons, this group is a central Iowa support and mentoring initiative for women who were previously incarcerated and are now transitioning back into the community. 

For several years now, these women have donated handmade Christmas stockings, decorated with everything from carefully counted cross-stitch to fun fabric paints, for Iowa children waiting to be adopted. Each one is filled with small gifts for the boy or girl who will be receiving it.

Especially during the holidays, this is an amazing way to show children in foster care that people in their community care about them! Thanks to the women who created these special gifts! 

From all of us at Iowa KidsNet, we wish you a wonderful holiday season. We're grateful for all of Iowa's foster and adoptive families and our friends and partners who advocate on behalf of Iowa children. Thank you!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding a forever family at 19

Yesterday the Des Moines Register ran a terrific feature about a 19-year-old  in Des Moines who was adopted this year, after aging out of foster care and wondering if she would ever have a permanent family. It's similar to the story we shared last week about another young adult, Larry, 21, who will be adopted this month.

I had the privilege of talking to Sam in the weeks leading up to her adoption this summer, and she's an amazing young person. Congratulations to Sam and her family as we celebrate National Adoption Month!

My favorite quote from her in the Register's story: "Now you have a family. Now you have somewhere to go for the holidays, someone to call for advice, to celebrate birthdays," Sam said. "For the first time ever, I have someone to call Dad. I have someone to walk me down the aisle. My children will have a grandpa."

Powerful stuff. You can read the full story here.

Want to learn about how you can support youth aging out of foster care? Two great places to start are Foster Club and Elevate, a local youth advocacy organization here in Iowa.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Balloon release video

Thanks to everyone who made our balloon release for National Adoption Month a success! Check out the video of some of the celebrations around the state.

Adopted at 21

Some stories truly melt your heart.

Last Christmas I had the opportunity to talk to a family in western Iowa who was in the process of adopting their former foster son, now an adult. Sometimes these journeys take time, and so I was so excited this month to hear from the mother, Renee, that her family will be finally be adopting Larry this Thanksgiving.

It's pretty rare for a teen in foster care to be adopted, let alone a 21-year-old. Larry came to live with this family when he was just 13, facing some tough issues. "He was only our second foster placement," said Renee, "and he was in residential care at the time, waiting to be adopted. We drove 3 and half hours every weekend to visit him before he came to live with us."

Larry and the family still had a tough road ahead of them. He had greater needs then the family could meet at the time, and so he moved back to treatment and other homes for several years. But he always managed to keep finding his way back to Renee's family. And now he's finding ways to help others.

"I was an EMT when Larry first lived with us," said Renee, "and he would always tell kids at school that he was dispatching his mom to calls."

 Larry's the one being dispatched now, after he recently earned his EMT certification and a job with the ambulance crew at his local fire department. It's easy to see who inspired him to achieve that dream.

"It's amazing that something could have such an impact in such a short amount of time," said Renee.

We hope this family has a seriously amazing Thanksgiving together and a time of celebration. Each year 29,000 youth age out of foster care without ever finding a forever family or having the support of a caring adult in their life to help them succeed.

Here's the truth of National Adoption Month. Everyone deserves a permanent, safe and loving place to call home. Larry's story reminds us that we're never too old to find family or create that family with the people who are closest to us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A coffee break with Jason

Today we’re excited to share another family’s foster care and adoption journey with you! Jason and Chuck have adopted five children from foster care in the past four and half years.

Hi! Thanks for sharing your great story with us! Tell us a little about your family and how your journey began.

Jason: We’ve fostered seven children in the past four and half years. We adopted five of them. The other two were infants and we wanted to adopt them also. Their mother was sick from child birth, but was able to get well enough to get her children back. It was wonderful she got better and we were happy to help. When they were able to go home, we sent them home with bags of new clothes. The parents were grateful for everything we did for those girls. Sometimes people tell us they could never foster because it would break their hearts to ever see the kids leave and go back to their birth parents.

I learned that this is a backwards way of thinking. We do not foster just to make ourselves feel good. We foster to give children a safe and loving home. Sometimes that can be for a lifetime, but sometimes it is just for a few weeks. The truth of the matter is that even though we fostered those girls for just a few weeks, we felt good knowing we helped them and their family in a time of need.

How did you end up adopting?

We got a phone call about a baby girl and her one year old brother. They were in a foster home and in need of an adoptive home. We drove to their town to meet them. A couple of days later they were in our home and a year later we were in court adopting them! Besides these two children, we also adopted three other boys. Two of these boys are biological brothers, and the third boy is their cousin. It was important to us to keep those family connections.

What advice would you give to other people considering becoming foster or adoptive parents?

I remember getting my hair cut by a young woman at Cost Cutters and telling her about my kids and the adoptions. She and her husband had no children. She always wanted to adopt, but her husband feared if they tried to adopt a foster child the child might go back to the birth parents. He didn’t want to risk that pain. Every time I got my hair cut I told her about the free classes to learn more about fostering and adoption. I explained that sometimes there are children in foster care who are already available for adoption, and there is no fear of those kids returning home.

I always wondered if this woman took my advice, and about a year later I ran into her at a rummage sale. She came up to me all in smiles, and she was excited to tell me they were in the process of adopting a baby girl! Last week I ran into her again and her two year old daughter was with her. I felt so happy inside knowing this child would be raised in such a loving home. I always wonder how many other loving families would adopt or foster if they knew the facts about it. And if they knew the blessings.

Make no mistake. It takes a lot of hard work. Parenting any child is work. But when you adopt children from the foster care system, they often have more issues than your average kid. They need a safe and loving home and parents they can depend on. It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done in many ways. But it’s also the best blessing we’ve ever had in our life.

People always say to us, “Thank God that these children were lucky enough to get you as parents.” I always tell them they have that backwards. We are the lucky ones to have these children in our lives!

Iowa's truly lucky to have some amazing foster and adoptive parents. If you're on Facebook, be sure to check out our Blind Side giveaway today. Each Wednesday in November we're giving away one copy of the hit film The Blind Side. See details here on Facebook. Thanks!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy National Adoption Month!

Happy National Adoption Month! Today's the first day of a month-long whirlwind of raising awareness about the 114,000 children in the U.S. who are waiting to be adopted from foster care. It's also a time to celebrate the people who make a difference in their lives - foster and adoptive families, caseworkers, advocates, volunteers, mentors and many others.

I've already had the privilege of hearing some great adoption stories today. Hopefully we'll have the chance to share some of these with you throughout the month!

As we start this month of celebration, enjoy this video from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, reminding us of what it's all about:

P.S. To say thanks for helping us spread the word this November, we'll be hosting a fun little giveaway on Facebook. Join us on Facebook each Wednesday in November for the chance to win a free copy of the movie The Blind Side. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 29, 2010

When life is Not.So.TV.

About 29,000 youth age out of foster care every year without the support they need to succeed. Janessa, a foster care alum and social work student at the University of Northern Iowa, graciously agreed to share how support made a difference for her. She's now very involved in giving back to youth in care, and we hope to hear more from her in the future! Here's Janessa's story:

Entering foster care

At 21, I recognize that life is like a card game in a sense. It’s not always about winning or losing, but instead how you deal the cards that you are dealt. I could spend all my time searching for answers and asking questions as like, “Why me?” If this were the case I would not be who I am, or where I am today.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.”

I entered the Iowa foster care system just one month after I turned 14. I was in the 8th grade. My mom at the time was dealing with issues of her own that were getting in the way of her ability to parent, so the State saw fit that my two sisters and me be removed from the home. Immediately we were split up. I went to a youth shelter and my sisters went to live with my grandparents. This was a huge challenge for me. I had already been taken from the only thing I knew (home) and now I was being separated from the only two people who I’d had naturally bonded with my whole life.

“Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” Jawaharal Nehru

At a young age I decided that no matter what I was going through I would persevere. My only option was to move forward. I pledged to keep my head on straight regardless of what my peers had to say, what my family had to say, and regardless of what statistics claimed my future would be. My reality at the time did not have to determine my destiny.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this was easy. I’m not superwoman, and I never will be! I’ve experienced feelings of rejection, loneliness, and even depression as many other foster kids can attest to. There were many nights that I didn’t believe I would make it through.

Reason to believe

Today, I am a college student, actively involved on a foster care youth board called Elevate, and a young advocate for youth in the foster care system. Looking back on my foster care experience I have many people to credit to my successes. Without the help of several supportive adults there is no way I would be where I am today. Having people like my social worker, GAL (Guardian At Litem), CASA worker, and TLP worker recognize my goals, talents, and encourage me through education and personal development gave me reason to believe in myself.

To learn more about how to become involved in the life of a current or former foster youth, visit Foster Club or contact your local Department of Human Services.

“…The recognition and support of those around you is nurturing.” -Rosemarie Rossetti


Janessa is helping raise awareness about the real life challenges of young people today through a documentary series called Not.So.TV. Check out her promo video below!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Princesses and Pirates

One great thing about adopting in the state of Iowa is that if you have a subsidized foster care adoption, you’ll automatically qualify for free post-adoption support services from Iowa KidsNet.

These services can help families with all kind of issues, such as a behavioral problem or crisis, navigating a school or birth family issue and more. If you’re a subsidized adoptive family and are interested in these services, please call us at 1.800.243.0756. You’ll be assigned your own support specialist who will create a plan specifically for your family.

To say thank you to adoptive families this November, we’ll be hosting a special adoption respite event in Des Moines called “Princesses and Pirates” on Nov. 7. Adoptive parents (those with a subsidized foster care adoption) will be able to spend an afternoon shopping or relaxing in Des Moines while we host fun activities, treats, crafts and a magic show for their kids at the Des Moines Botanical Center!

Why Princesses and Pirates? For one thing, it’ll keep the Halloween costume fun going into November. And because every child deserves the opportunity to simply be a kid – having fun and imagining they can be anything they want to be. That’s what great foster and adoptive families allow them to do every day!

If you’re an adoptive family in our Navigator program, look for details coming your way soon.

Who is your favorite pirate or princess character in a book or movie? Let us know!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Events coming up in November!

We are in full swing planning for November's National Adoption Month! There are over 114,000 children in U.S. foster care who are waiting to be adopted. Some children may wait five years or more, which is a lifetime to a child. We hope you'll save the date for one of the exciting events happening in Iowa to help raise awareness:

  • Nov. 6 - Statewide balloon launch (locations TBA)
  • Nov. 6 - Kids Expo in Dubuque
  • Nov. 7 - Princesses and Pirates in Des Moines (A fun respite event for adoptive families. Details TBA)
  • Nov. 13-14 - Adoption Retreat at Camp Ewalu in Strawberry Point
  • Nov. 19 - Cedar Rapids Adoption Friday
  • Nov. 20 - National Adoption Day!
  • Nov. 20 - Des Moines Adoption Saturday
  • Nov. 20 - Sioux City Adoption Saturday
  • Nov. 20 - Webster City Adoption Saturday
  • Nov. 20 - Council Bluffs Adoption Saturday
  • Nov. 20 - Davenport Adoption Fair
You can keep up with event details at our website. Even if you can't attend an event, there are many things during National Adoption Month that you can do to help! Learn the facts about foster care adoption, ask your faith community to participate in an event such as Orphan Sunday, or learn how you can support youth aging out of foster care through Elevate or Foster Club. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Foster a Smile.

Here's something that put a smile on our faces this week.  Foster A Smile is a network of professional photographers who volunteer their time to take free senior photos for teens in foster care. It's an awesome cause that makes sure Iowa high school seniors in foster care get the great photos they deserve.

Sarah Moore of Boone, Iowa, started this statewide network. Here's what she has to say on their website about why it's so important:

"Through my personal volunteer work, I've learned that only 50% of foster youth in Iowa graduate from high school. Nationally, only 20% attend college and of these, only 3% will graduate, even though 70% of foster youth want to go to college. The point is, that it's a big deal for a foster youth to graduate from high school...and they rarely get senior pictures. In the grand scheme of things, senior pictures may not be all that important―but it's a lifetime keepsake of a huge accomplishment for these youth."

We hope you'll check out their website, and help spread the word!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Up, up, and away! Join us for a balloon launch.

- Ames Adoption Saturday '09 -

Interested in a fun way to help celebrate National Adoption Month?

We're planning a statewide balloon launch on Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. at locations across Iowa - with the goal of raising awareness about children in foster care and those waiting to be be adopted!

Each site will release 40 biodegradeable balloons, representing 100 children per balloon.

But, we can't do it without you! We're looking for volunteers to either help coordinate a site in their area or simply be present to celebrate with us during the balloon release. This is a kid-friendly event, so bring the whole family!

To sign up or get more details, please contact the local Iowa KidsNet recruiter in your area. Click here.

Hope to see you there on Nov. 6! We'll post a full list of all the locations as we line up the sites during October.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Another angel in adoption

Today we're excited for you to meet the other Iowa Angels in Adoption nominees, Julie and Charles from Council Bluffs. With six children in their home, you might imagine they would be a little busy, but Julie graciously took the time to answer some questions for us. Thanks Julie!

First, congratulations on your award! What a terrific honor. How did you get involved with foster care?

"My husband Charles and I started our journey in 2006. I'd always been interested in fostering and adoption even before we got married. After a couple of years of marriage, we decided we were ready to open our hearts and home to children and families. We could have never imagined where this road would take us."

Tell us a little bit about your family.

"We have fostered over 25 boys and girls, from a two-day old baby to a 16-year-old. We've been blessed to adopt Noah, 3, Elizabeth, 10, and Josie, 7. We'll be finalizing adoptions of three more children this fall, including a sibling group on National Adoption Day."

As a Congressional Angel in Adoption, you'll be traveling to Washington, D.C. this fall. What do you hope to accomplish?

"We hope to continue to advocate for children in the system and also their birth families in many cases. We'd like to meet with legislators to talk to them about the importance of the time frames for children and families and really put a face to the children, instead of a statistic. We're also an Iowa KidsNet ambassador family, and I teach PS-MAPP classes so we truly feel a need to find wonderful homes for our children, whether they're temporary through foster care or permanent through adoption."

Do you have any words of advice for those considering foster care or adoption from foster care?

"Keep an open mind. Each child is an individual, and don't rule out older children. Every child deserves a place to call home and someone to call their family. Know there will be twists and turns, but the journey is so worth it. Every child needs love, but also keep yourself informed with trainings on behaviors and other issues. Also, reach out for support, whether through your Iowa KidsNet support worker or other foster parents. We may never know the impact we may have on our children, but we will never forget the impact they have had on us!"

Thanks Julie! We wish your family well as you enjoy this honor and new adventure! You can learn more about the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and the Angels in Adoption program here. If you're reading, can you remember an "angel" who made a difference in your life? We'd love to hear about it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An angel in adoption

Every fall each member of Congress gets to pick one constituent to honor as an "Angel in Adoption," for their extraordinary contributions on behalf of children in need of homes.

Iowa is honoring three terrific individuals this year- Charles and Julie Lamb of Council Bluffs and Teresa Sea of Iowa City.

We'd like to introduce you to Teresa this week. She's been a DHS worker for over 20 years, currently serving as a transition planning specialist to help teens aging out of foster care. Jackie Hammers-Crowell, a foster care alum and a support person for the Cedar Rapids Elevate Chapter, helped nominate Teresa and shares why Teresa is so special to her:

"Teresa first entered my life when I was in college and was chosen as a recipient of the Iowa Foster Child Grant. As part of her DHS duties, Teresa would check in on me and other recipients once per month to verify we were attending our classes and give us info about resources. Teresa always went above and beyond for me - running me for groceries, sending me birthday cards, taking phone calls off the clock when I needed to vent about a class or family issues, etc."

"Knowing Teresa has truly changed my life."

"She has helped many other kids as well. Teresa used to volunteer her weekends altering secondhand prom dresses for teenagers in group care, and she has also been part of the Iowa Youth Dream Teams initiative locally, attending meetings for numerous youth and encouraging them to chase their dreams. To this day, Teresa continues to support foster care youth and alumni by supporting not one, but two Elevate chapters. Teresa is an amazing human being and an asset to DHS, foster children and the community at large."

Powerful proof that it only takes one person to make a difference for youth in foster care.

Congratulations to Teresa and the many other nominees. Thanks for making a difference!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A coffee break with Rachelle

Did you know Iowa KidsNet offers free adoption support services? It's a great service to help families along their journey and through any challenges they may face after adopting a child from foster care. For example, a family may need support for a child struggling in school or advice in navigating a birth family relationship.

Today we'll chat with Rachelle, a post-adoption support specialist in northwest Iowa. Rachelle is a former peer liasion with the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association and understands foster care on a personal level as a foster and adoptive parent.

Hi Rachelle! Thanks for joining us. Let's start by learning about you and your family.

My husband I have opened our home to more than 30 children in the past 14 years. Through the years of fostering, we also have adopted. We now have six children and recently became grandparents. It's been a journey I can't imagine not taking.

That's terrific. What prompted you to become a foster parent?

For as long as I can remember, it's been something I wanted to do. Growing up, I had an aunt that did foster care, and she inspired me to become a foster parent. My family has been extremely blessed. It's taught us so much.

Over the years, you've probably received lots of questions about foster care. What's the strangest question you hear?

The most bizzare question I get asked would be "Which ones are yours?" I'm sure this is not a surprise to other foster and adoptive parents. I reply with a smile, of course, "they are all mine."

Tell us a little about your job as a support specialist for adoptive families.

As a support specialist, I provide support to families who need someone to listen, find resources and develop a plan that will help keep the home safe and stable for a child. It's such a rewarding job, and I love it.

Is there a support tip you find yourself giving out often?

A lot of support I provide to families is simply showing an understanding of what they're going through with empathy and without judgment. As a support specialist, I try to make myself available anytime, even nights or weekends. If a family is in crisis, I want to help.

That's great. We've talked before about how supporting families is not a 9-5 service. Anything else you'd like to add?

I truly have a passion for children and the parents that care for them. I have adopted and know both the joys and frustrations that journey can bring to the whole family. The time and dedication families give to children is admirable and honorable. It's my sincere privilege to support our families in any way that I can.

Thanks Rachelle! Does anyone have questions about adoption support? Otherwise, you can learn more here on our website.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A coffee break with Marlene

It's time to introduce you to another one of our great ambassador families. These foster and adoptive parents are helping Iowa KidsNet raise awareness about foster care within their networks of friends, neighbors and communities.

Today we'll talk to Marlene, our Cedar Rapids ambassador family. Marlene and her husband have adopted three boys from foster care, ages 11, 8, and 7, who are all biological siblings.

Hi Marlene! Can you start by telling us how you got involved with foster care?

My husband and I dealt with infertility issues early on in our marriage. We decided that we would be okay without children and for seven years we were. But then my biological clock started ticking as I approached 30. So, since I am adopted, it was a natural choice for us to become parents through adoption. We completed PS-MAPP training classes and became licensed in 2005.

Thanks for your involvement as an ambassador family! What have you been up to?

First, let me say that I'm glad the ambassador family program exists, but I would do this work regardless. As an ambassador family, I wrote an editorial that was printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and I made a guest appearance on a local radio show during National Foster Care Month in May.

My Facebook profile has a link to Iowa KidsNet's website, and I try to include sayings or quotes about foster parenting or adoption. I also obtained permission from the University of Iowa School of Social Work to place brochures in their resource rack. I look forward to doing some additional activities this summer.

(Marlene's editorial was wonderful, by the way. Here's the link, but unfortunately it's available to view only by purchase or if you already have an account on the website.)

We sometimes refer to foster and adoptive families as everyday heroes. In that case, what is your foster and adoptive parent superpower?

Well, I have a big mouth naturally, so I'd say my superpower is using it to advocate for kids.

What do you think is the biggest myth about foster parenting or children in care?

There are a few. One is that we are in it for the money. We may be in it for something, but I guarantee it isn't money since it only covers part of a child's expenses, and it will never be enough to compensate for extra appointments, loss of privacy, behaviors and a loss of sleep. Another common myth is that all foster children need is love. That's a good start, but it also takes patience, in some cases therapy, a sense of humor, a lot of prayer and more therapy.

Is there a special moment that sticks out from your foster care journey?

That's easy. I had no clue that my kids' former foster parents, siblings, and their adoptive families would become so much a part of our family, but that's exactly what happened. If you remember, we have three adopted sons. They are all biological brothers, and they are part of a sibling group of six. Their siblings are adopted by two other families who we try to see monthly.

Something happened along the way - the sibling visits became something we enjoyed and looked forward to versus something we were doing only because it was the right thing to do. Before we knew it, we were going on weekend trips together and celebrating family birthdays. As for the former foster family of two of our boys, they have become close friends to us and surrogate grandparents to all of our boys.

That's great to hear. It's so important to keep those sibling bonds when possible. Last question. What are three essential qualities a foster parent should have?

Every foster or adoptive parent should be flexible, able to laugh and have a never ending supply of hugs and kisses.

Thanks for joining us Marlene! Anything else to add?

Becoming an adoptive parent has been the hardest and best thing I have ever done. I have the children that God intended for me, and my experience has sparked such a passion for working with children that I went back to school and now I'm working toward a master's degree in social work.

Thanks to all our ambassador families for raising awareness about the needs of children in foster care!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A coffee break with Dawn

Today we're lucky to have Dawn join us for a "coffee break." Dawn is an Iowa KidsNet licensing supervisor and service coordinator in Western Iowa. If you're a foster parent in that neck of the woods, you might know her - she's been working with foster parents for the past 24 years!

Thanks Dawn for taking some questions! As a licensing supervisor, give us one essential tip for families who are in the process of completing their home studies.

It is essential to know the needs of your family and how that will fit with a foster or adoptive child's needs. Take what you learn during PS-MAPP training and use it to understand what a foster child will be experiencing. Consider your own experiences and family needs, and see what you need to do before you start taking placements so that you are well prepared. Then, talk with the family and licensing worker about this openly and honestly.

What's the most commonly asked licensing question you hear from families?

It seems like every family wants to know "how long will it take before a child is placed in my home?" I remind them that we're looking for families to meet an individual child's needs, and we can't predict what those needs will be. The kids we have coming into foster care are often sibling groups, teenagers and children with special needs. If you are able to care for those children, you may have a much shorter wait.

Name three qualities that help make a good foster parent.

Patience, sense of humor, and ability to work with others in a flexible manner.

Sense of humor is a must! After so many years in the field, you must have great stories. Can you share one of your favorites?

I've always enjoyed supporting and working with those families who foster teenagers. The story that holds the most meaning for me involved a meeting with a 17-year-old boy, his foster parents and his father. This boy, like many teens, desperately wanted to be on his own. He had many challenges when he first entered foster care, but by now he was a better student and didn't need any special assistance. The father encouraged his son to stay in foster care and finish high school, saying that he felt remaining in foster care would be like an "insurance policy" that his son would graduate.

That young man did graduate. Today he's a hardworking adult and father, and he's successful primarily because of the encouragement he got and still gets from his foster parents. I see this story over and over for teens that get the right attention and care in foster care. I love the commitment that our foster parents have for their foster children!

Last question. What's your advice to someone considering becoming a foster parent?

Be honest about why you're considering it. It really does have to be about meeting a child's needs and not your own needs. Go into the process with an open mind and recognize that nothing worthwhile is easy. Being a foster parent is truly worthwhile!

Thanks to Dawn for sharing some insights and stories with us. Hope everyone has a safe and spectacular Fourth of July weekend!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Friday, and Four New Campaign Photos!

Happy Friday afternoon everyone!

Today we posted some of the photos from the "I Did It" foster parent recruitment campaign on our website. Check out the terrific photos of Brandy, Christina, Sunshine and Linda, as well as their reasons for why they decided to become foster parents:

Christina - "I did it because I could. I knew my husband and I could be thoughtful, compassionate and supportive parents. We knew we could provide a loving and nurturing home to a child who needed one."

Brandy - "I did it because I've been in their shoes. In junior high and high school I was in foster care for six years. My foster family had such a positive impact on my life - it made me want to become a foster parent."

Sunshine - "I did it because of my sister. Growing up, my sister was in foster care. When she later became a foster parent, she inspired my husband and me to think, Hey, we can do this. Now we help sisters stick together by fostering sibling groups and other Iowa kids."

Linda - "I did it because two kids in my church needed a home. When two girls we knew were placed in a shelter, we thought we could just drive over and pick them up. We ended up becoming licensed foster parents to take care of them. Twenty years later we're still fostering."

Thanks foster parents for all you do, and the many powerful reasons behind it. If you're thinking about doing foster care, tell us - what would be your reason? We'd love to hear.

Have a good weekend! If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, head to our Facebook page - people have been posting some great suggestions!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

5 Things to Know About Matching Calls

Wondering why you haven't received a call for a foster placement in awhile? We hear that question from foster families every now and then, so here's a few things to consider if you've been in that boat.

1. Talk to your support specialist. A good first step is to always let your support specialist know your questions. He or she can talk to you about what's going on in your local area, what the needs are in your community and make sure all your information is correct and updated.

2. Remember it's about the best possible match. When a child enters foster care, we're looking to find the best possible family to meet that child's specfic needs. Maybe the child has a pet allergy. Maybe she has past trauma that makes her uncomfortable with a male parent. Maybe there are several siblings who need to stay together if possible.

It's also important for a child's stability to keep them in the same school district if possible and close to their birth family for visits, since reunification is the ultimate goal. By having a large pool of available foster families, there's a better chance we'll find a great match for that child or sibling group. The Department of Human Services then makes the final decision where to place a child.

3. Give us a call after a child leaves your home. When a child leaves your home, Iowa KidsNet doesn't receive instant notification of that discharge. If you give us a call and let us know, then we'll know your home has space for another child sooner rather than later.

3. Do respite care. Doing respite care for other foster families is a great foster parenting opportunity. It will also help you build your network of support with other foster families in your area. Then, when you do have a child in your home, they could provide respite care for you!

4. Think about your family profile. You may eventually want to take a look at your family's preferences. Are the children coming into care in your area the kinds of children you would be willing to care for? If not, you may want to examine if you could be a great match for other groups of kids. We know our families put careful consideration into what their family strengths are during PS-MAPP training, so do some homework first if you're thinking about making a change. For example, if you're thinking about fostering teens, talk to other families who foster older youth and ask your support specialist for advice. You could do respite care for a teen.

5. Take advantage of training. The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association (IFAPA) offers many great and free trainings to foster and adoptive parents. Take advantage and build your foster parenting skills so you'll be ready for the next child you welcome to your home!

Iowa's lucky to have many great foster families across the state. Thanks for all you do, and being willing to step up for kids who need safe and nurturing homes!

Does anyone have questions about our matching process?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The power of one

Last night I heard a single mom speak about the challenge of trying to go back to school while affording child care for her three kids, and a young woman talk about her difficulty in accessing quality mental health care after first attempting suicide at age 12.

They weren't stories about foster care, but they reminded me how powerful just one person's voice can be. How powerful it can be when we encourage the people most affected by an issue to share their voice. To share their story.

The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections provided that opportunity recently when they launched their Digital Stories From the Field project.

It's a collection of stories about the child welfare system, told from the voices of those who know it best - foster youth, their families, social workers, judges, advocates and many others.

Check out Josh's video where he talks about journey of shuffling through foster homes and schools and how supportive adults made a difference. He's now working toward the goal of a master's degree in social work.

Or listen to Bernadette's story, a mom who vividly describes the day her children were placed in foster care and how her journey unfolded from that moment.

It's those kinds of stories, those powerful and personal truths, that we need to hear during National Foster Care Month and all year long.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An "I Did It" moment with Brandy

First Lady Mari Culver will help us honor Iowa's great foster families for National Foster Care Month and unveil our new foster family recruitment campaign - featuring real Iowa foster parents - on May 24 @ 11 a.m. at the Capitol in Des Moines!

We'd love for you to join us - we'll be in the rotunda, second floor.

In the meantime, see a sneak peek into our photo shoot for the new campaign with the video below. Joe Crimmings of Joe Crimmings Photography generously donated his time and awesome talent to this project to help us raise awareness about Iowa's foster kids. Thanks Joe!

Brandy, an Iowa foster mom, shares about her personal reasons for doing foster care:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Am I too old to be a foster parent? Debunking myths of foster care

I was chatting with a foster parent yesterday, a wonderful woman, who shared her story of how she became a foster parent 18 years ago.

Back then, she had called her local agency to ask if a single woman could become a foster parent, not sure if that was allowed. The agency was happy to inform her she could, and ever since she's been fostering Iowa youth, from teen mothers to infants to kids with special needs.

As we head into May's National Foster Care Month, it's a great time to share a few other myths about foster care.

1. Myth. You have to be married and a homeowner to be a foster parent. Fact. Foster parents come from all walks of life. Some are single, some are renters, some have kids and others don't. And foster parents come from all racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.

2. Myth. Kids are in foster care because they've done something wrong. Fact. Not true. Kids enter foster care because their biological family is currently unable to provide a safe or nurturing home. The ultimate goal of foster care is for kids to be able to return safely home to their biological families if possible.

3. Myth. Foster families are superheroes. Fact. While we do think our foster families are pretty awesome and extraordinary, the truth is they're ordinary families. And they'll be the first to tell you that! Foster parents are everyday, down-to-earth people who for many different reasons chose to step up for a child who needed a home. So, if you've been thinking you don't have what it takes, you might be surprised!

4. Myth. I'm too old to be a foster parent. Fact. You have to be 21 years old to be a foster parent in Iowa, and after that your age is only a consideration if it affects your ability to care for a specific child. In fact, I heard a nice story yesterday about a 68-year-old woman who is fostering several teenage boys. Older foster parents can be great - often, they have previous parenting experience or can share a wealth of wisdom and life experiences with youth.

5. Myth. Once I become a foster parent, I'm on my own. Fact. As child welfare has evolved, so has support for families. In Iowa, foster parents now have a really good support network with every foster family being assigned their own support specialist. Check out more about support here.

What are some myths you've heard about foster care? Or things that have surprised you? We'd love to hear.

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 Things You'll Like About PS-MAPP

Before you become a foster parent in Iowa, you're required to take a 30-hour series of classes over 10 weeks called PS-MAPP. It stands for Partnering for Safety and Permanency - a Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting. Or in simpler words, a class to prepare you for foster or adoptive parenting.

30 hours, you say? That's a lot! It is a lot, but those 30 hours will prepare you to impact a child's life in a way that lasts forever. And I think that's a pretty good return on the investment of your time, don't you? :)

Here's 5 things you'll like about PS-MAPP.

1. You'll find out who the kids are. You'll learn about why children enter the foster care system and the reasons behind why they need a home, whether that's a temporary foster home or possibly a permanent home through adoption. You may even get to hear from local teens in foster care about their personal experience.

2. You'll learn why foster and adoptive parents are so special. You'll get a better understanding of what makes a foster parent or adoptive parent role so unique. For example, foster parents not only have the opportunity to change the life of a child, but they can have a profound impact on a child's parents as well by being a positive role model.

3. Class can actually be fun. We do hear from most participants that they have fun with the training. Part of that, our trainers say, is because the classes are team-taught in an interactive way with a social worker and experienced foster or adoptive parent as your leaders.

4. You'll get plenty of names for future babysitters. PS-MAPP helps you build a network of support. You'll be sharing your class experience with other individuals who probably have many of the same questions, concerns and hopes that you do. It's a great opportunity to build new friendships with other parents - parents who may someday be able to provide respite care for you as a fellow foster parent.

5. A chance to make an informed decision. PS-MAPP class is not only training for foster care, but an opportunity to give you all the information you need to decide if foster care or adoption is right for your family. No matter what you decide, it should be a worthwhile experience. You'll have learned a lot of valuable information about yourself and your family that will be useful no matter what you do going forward.

Here's what a few families have said about PS-MAPP class:

"It's eye-opening and helps prepare you."
"It will change your perception of fostering and adoption."
"The time is worth the knowledge gained."
"The information learned can be used in many life situations."
"It helps you build relationships with other parents."
"A must-do if you want to be an effective and positive foster parent."

Are you ready to be a foster parent? Take a self-assessment, and find out.

What do you think about PS-MAPP? How did it help prepare you for foster parenting? Or, what kinds of things would you want to learn about foster parenting in your classes?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why did you do foster care?

We are in full swing with preparations for May's National Foster Care Month and are excited about what'll be happening next month - from special showings of The Blind Side to a free spoken-word, jazz and rap entertainment event that will raise awareness about Iowa's need for more African American foster families. Keep checking our events page or Facebook for updates, and I'll include more info on the blog as it gets closer.

One endeavor we're very excited about is launching a new marketing campaign for recruiting foster families! Based on the theme "I did it because . . .", the campaign will share reasons why real families decided to do foster care and ask community members to consider what their reason for doing foster care would be. Here's a few of the powerful responses we've received so far, when posing this question to staff members and current families:

I did it for my grandchildren.
I did it for my people.
I did it because we weren't ready to be empty nesters.
I did it because I was one. I was in foster care for six years.
I did it because I am blessed.
I did it because their birth mom asked for help.

So, if you're a foster parent, why did you do do foster care? Or, if you're considering it, what would your reason be?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who would you call at 2:30 a.m.?

What comes to mind when you think of the word "support"?

A friend who listens to your bad day? The frustration of being on hold with tech support?

Lately, when I hear the word support I think about a 2:30 a.m. phone call.

2:30 a.m. is when Karen, an Iowa KidsNet support specialist, recently got a call from one of her foster families. The foster mom was having chest pains, and the dad wondered if Karen could stay with the young children in their home while he and his wife went to the emergency room.

Karen lived across town, but she made it to their house while the ambulance was still there.

“I would be there in the middle of the night for any of my families who needed me," she said when she told me this story.

Imagine the family's relief. Not having to worry about the kids, because a skilled professional was there. Because Karen had a trusted relationship with their family. Because she already knew each child in their home.

Fortunately, the parents were okay and back home by sunrise. We welcomed 63 new resource families in February, and one of the best things as they begin their journey of helping Iowa kids is that they don't have to do it alone.

Each of Iowa's resource families is assigned a support specialist to help meet their specific needs and even create a unique plan for their family. Obviously, not every family will have a middle-of-the-night-crisis, and your support specialist may not always be able to be on hand within minutes, like Karen was.

But knowing you have a go-to person you can always call, whether it's with a simple question or something more complex - that's what makes this kind of support so valuable.

Who's the "go-to-person" in your life? Your best friend? A sister? Your parents? Leave a comment, and let us know!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A coffee break with Alicia and Mike

I'm so excited this week to introduce you to one of our Iowa KidsNet ambassador families! This is a program Iowa KidsNet started last fall with some great foster and adoptive families across the state. They're helping us raise awareness about Iowa children in foster care and the need for more foster families by reaching out to their personal contacts of family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and their local community.

Alicia and Mike are an ambassador family in the Waterloo service area.

Hi ambassadors! So, tell us a little about your family.
We have a 20-year-old daughter, an 18-year-old son, an 11-year-old son and a 22-month-old son. We also have a 12-year-old foster daughter and an 18-year-old foster son.

Wow, you're a busy family! When did you become foster parents?
We have been foster parents for a little over two years now. We decided to become foster parents because we wanted to adopt. During our journey to become foster parents our perspective changed, and we decided to foster as well.

What is something that has surprised you about foster parenting?
First, we were surprised at just how much we love it. We were also surprised that at most times it is very easy to work together with birth families.

Name three qualities you think help make a good foster parent.

Empathy, a good sense of humor, and a true desire to make a difference in a child's life.

Any interesting or funny stories to share?
We had a 4-year-old girl in our care for about eight months. She had been with us for roughly six months at the time, and I was sitting at the computer doing some work and she was in the same room playing with her dolly. I would catch pieces of the conversation she was having with her doll, and at one point I had to stop working and smile as I heard her tell her dolly that it was time for her to get ready to go on a visit to see her "birth mommy."

We're super excited to have started our Ambassador program. What have you been up to as an ambassador family?
We participated in Charles City's Spook Walk in 2009. When the Charles City Public Library hosted the Heart Gallery, Alicia read a book about adoption to two different groups of children for story time. During the Charles Theater's showing of The Blind Side, we handed out, pens, magnets, brochures, and business cards as well as answered questions both before and after the movie.

We spoke with restaurant owners who have then put out table tents. We have talked with our local radio station who has since run public service announcements for Iowa KidsNet. We have also talked to a countless number of people, put up many posters, put out a large number of brochures, and handed out hundreds of pens.

That is awesome. Thanks for helping spread the word! Anything else you want to add?
We would just like to say that becoming foster and foster adoptive parents is one of the best things that we have ever done. It has made our marriage stronger because we have to work as a team. We are stronger as parents because of the different backgrounds we encounter. We have stronger children because they have learned patience and empathy. And we have a stronger family because we appreciate what we have even more.

Being an ambassador family has allowed us to meet some wonderful people and make new friends. We are now much more involved in our community than we were before. Most importantly we are involved in something that we are very passionate about. Children have the power to become anything they want to become if only given the chance. Maybe you or I will be the one who gives them that opportunity.

Thanks to Alicia and Mike for sharing a little glimpse into their lives as foster parents!

We hope to introduce you to more of our ambassador families across the state.

Alicia and Mike had a great point about how foster care has benefited their own family, as well as the kids they care for. If you're a foster parent, how do you think the experience has made you a stronger parent/spouse/family?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How camping connected one teen to his forever family

Sorry for our absence over the last month! Hopefully, I can make it up by sharing a good story. :)

I spoke recently with Aimee, a member of Iowa KidsNet's matching team. Who's the matching team? These are the folks who receive the calls from the Department of Human Services (DHS) when they have a child who needs a foster home.

Our matching team then uses a database to identify and contact foster families who would be a good match for the child's needs, and we present the potential matches to the DHS caseworker for a final decision. You can read more details about the matching process here.

Anyway, the good story. This team member told me about a young man who had been in and out of foster care for several years now. A great young man, but he had some significant needs that required a very special family.

"It was a planned placement into foster care, and I think we called over 52 homes for him," Aimee said.

In the end, it was a tiny detail on his paperwork that caught her eye and helped find the right family.

"The thing that caught my attention was where it said he liked to go camping and be outside," she said. "I remembered I had talked to a family previously where the foster dad shared how much their family enjoyed camping and living in a rural area. I wondered if maybe that could be their connection."

The family had taken special needs children in the past, and when they found out about this young man's outdoor interests it sparked a response.

Each year over 20,000 youth age out of foster care without having been adopted or having the permanent support they need to make a successful leap into adulthood.

That won't be the case for this young man. Within a year after first coming to live with them, the family adopted him. He'll now have a forever family and the support he needs to succeed!

We often tell people thinking about foster care that they would be surprised how much they have to offer, just by sharing their interests and giving a child love and support in a stable home. This is a great example.

Hopefully, they'll enjoy many, many great family camping trips to come!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The power of one

Remember back when you were first on your own as a young adult? Maybe you think about a first apartment or first job, or that first year of college.

When I started my freshman year of college, I knew I had family I could call at the end of a bad day and a home to go to for Thanksgiving dinner. Parents who didn't mind me dragging home a few loads of laundry, and nice folks at our church who sent care packages during finals week. When I graduated, there were people to celebrate with, friends to share advice on job hunting and family to help move everything into an apartment.

Sound familiar? If you were lucky enough to grow up with it, it's easy to take that kind of support for granted. To count on it without thinking about it, because it's simply there.

Each year about 20,000 young people age out of foster care without a permanent family. Without the support or resources to rely on to make a successful transition into young adulthood.

It's a staggering statistic, and it can be hard to know how to help. One creative and powerful example I love is the permanency pact, which is a tool designed by Foster Club. They imagined 45 different ways you could offer support to a young person who has no permanent family to rely on, everything from helping a teen wade through the college application process to something as simple as offering them a place to do laundry every once in awhile.

It's a good time to think about how we can support young people as January is National Mentoring Month. According to the National Mentoring Partnership, an estimated 17.6 million young people - nearly half the population of young people between 10 and 18 years of age - live in situations that put them at risk of not living up to their potential.

As powerful as that statistic is, what's just as powerful is the truth that it only takes one person - just one - to make a difference for a young person. We can all do something, whether it's volunteering as a mentor, committing to a child as a foster or adoptive parent or sending a care package.

Who were some of your mentors or role models? We'd love to hear about them.