Pastoral Response Assistance Team, Inc.
Stand in the shoes of ten year old John and his six year old sister Mary. They were placed together in a foster home, where they’ve been for “seven months or so”. Their two-year-old sister Annie is in another home. They have been told they are going to have to move again, but they can’t find a home for them together this time. John will be sharing a room with another foster child Mike. He thinks Mike’s six or sixteen.
Their DSS caseworker comes and moves John to the new foster home across town. Mary will move tomorrow. They'll be out of school for at least a week. When they do go back, it will be to a different school - the third one this year! They'll do their best, but experience tells them that catching up won't be easy.
Like three-quarters of the children in foster care in the United States, these children don't wake up together, or see each other getting ready for school in the morning. They don't engage in the normal day-to-day fray of sibling rivalry, and they don't see their mother's face before they go to bed at night.
All week long, John and Mary save up their stories and thoughts for Sunday phone calls with their mom or the monthly visit at the Department of Social Service’s office. This is their only time to fill her in on school, friends and activities. They have to do it this way not only because of the miles between them, but because they are seldom permitted to see their mother in person. John’s new “foster brother”, Mike is in a similar situation, his mom can only see him on weekends when she can get to the city, and the DSS office is closed.
For various reasons, including lack of resources, on-again, off-again use of drugs, contact visits between some parents and children have been few or sometimes forbidden. Case workers monitor the family's progress and make decisions about when—and if—they are to meet. The separation wears on the family's fragile fabric.
Parental visits are the single most important predictor of safe reunification with families. They can motivate parents to make changes in the behavior that caused children to be removed. These visits are also opportunities for birth parents to learn how to meet the needs of their children. We don't want children to lose attachment to their parents Visitation is also vital for repairing and strengthening the bond between parents and children. While visitation can be painful because it reminds parents and children that they are living apart, it can also offer an opportunity to arrive at the best possible permanency for every child.
When children are removed from their home and placed in foster care, they often endure the additional trauma of being separated from their family, friends and community
At our annual meeting in April, the Pastoral Response Assistance Team approved a special project to be directed by Jane O’Connor M.Ed., a retiring Watertown Middle School Principal, to develop a model home for school-aged children that need to be out of their homes, but also need the connections of family, school and community.
The goal of the home (in part) would be to minimize educational disruptions and extend support to school-age foster children to partner with their family, local school boards city and state agencies and others to keep foster kids in their same schools, where possible, and to intervene when a foster child needs extra assistance to overcome disruptions. We will also encourage family visits, modeling strong parenting skills and supporting birth parents.
It would also beef up training for caseworkers and foster parents, focusing all parties on how to help the child succeed in school.
Studies show that more than one in two children has to change schools when they enter foster care. They miss class and fall behind as they face new teachers, classmates and curriculum. Experts say that missing school for a week can put such a child behind by a month.
Foster children have enough pain and disruption in their home lives. They don't need more of it at school.
According to the National Children's Bureau, among children exiting foster care to permanent placements, 66 percent were reunified with their families or other relatives. The numbers suggest it makes sense to nurture family relationships, not cut them off.