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!