“What’s going to happen to me?” When you work in child welfare, you hear this question a lot: in car rides taking clients to appointments, in supervised family visits, in your office. This question, asked by a 14-year-old boy in the Boston Globe’s April 6 article about the many underserved children in Massachusetts’s foster care system, is familiar to me and my colleagues at CFCS. It is a question we, working with the Department of Children and Families and other providers, try to answer every time. But sometimes we don’t have a reply.
The social workers who work in our Intensive Foster Care Program strive to meet the needs of the children and young adults in our care. Sometimes, these children are born exposed to drugs. Often, they’ve experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse; sometimes all three. Our staff meet with the children whose cases they’ve been assigned a minimum of once a week in their foster homes. They get updates from their foster parents about how the children are doing in school. They make sure those children can get rides to after-school activities. Our employees take turns being on call throughout the night, answering a worried phone call at 3 AM and reporting for work at 9 AM with updates for their colleagues about their case.
At CFCS, we are good at what we do. But every day, we receive referrals for more children in need of a home than we have the capacity to serve. We do not have enough foster parents to care for all of the children that need them.
We are a long-standing organization (established in 1873), but we believe there is always more to learn about how to better serve children and create safer homes and more nurturing families. In recent years, we have invested our time and resources into embedding permanency into every aspect of our work. This means we aim to ensure that every child we serve not only has a place to stay each night, but has a family they can count on every day, no matter what. That family may consist of just one caring adult; it might be a supportive foster family; or it might be members of their biological family. But our work cannot flourish without good foster homes to serve as long-term placements for children who are neither adopted nor can yet reunite with their biological families.
At CFCS, we often pick up a child’s case after the dust has settled and we can place that child in a stable, therapeutic home. Children rarely have to move to a different foster home once we’ve placed them – our average is about one move a year across the whole program. Our foster home matches are successful because we know that the environments children need to heal and grow can’t exist without a lot of support and collaboration between our agency and their foster family. To nurture the children we serve, we must also nurture the foster families those children depend on, providing them with the physical and emotional resources they need to care for their foster children while not wearing themselves out or becoming overwhelmed. However, this investment we make in our foster families will not mean much if we only have a few families to work with.
That question – what’s going to happen to me? – stays with me at night. When I read the Globe’s recent reporting on the Massachusetts foster care system, it feels to me like the system I work in, the system of child welfare, is asking all of us that question. What is going to happen to the more than 10,000 children in foster care in this state? They all deserve a home they know they can return to each night, a supportive adult, a full night’s sleep. They all deserve permanency. At CFCS, we work with our partners at other providers and at DCF to help bring permanency into the lives of every child, adult and family we work with, every day.
I invite you to help us answer that young child’s question. If you would like to become a foster parent, I encourage you to reach out to us at 617-876-4210. We are always available to work with those willing to provide safe, nurturing homes to the many children who need them.