CFLE in Context: Foster Care and Adoption
My journey as a helping professional began when I was a young child. In preschool, my mother recalls that I made a point to befriend the "underdogs." In middle school and high school, volunteer work solidified my love for people, especially families.
I knew that I wanted to pursue a career where I would be able to improve family life for others. After high school, my educational and early professional path remained fairly straight. I was able to identify, early on, my strengths and interests, and I found teachers and other helping professionals who were willing to support, encourage, and challenge me through the entire process.
I attended Concordia University in Ann Arbor and began studying in their Family Life Education program. The classes were extremely interesting and practical, and they provided me with a passion for learning and the tools to work with diverse populations. My internship experiences were, similarly, varied and gave me the confidence to pursue additional learning opportunities. Each experience also led to an employment opportunity, including my first "real" job as a medical transportation program coordinator for senior citizens in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Following graduation from the Family Life Education program, I desired to work intimately with individuals and families, and I felt that pursuing a Master's degree in counseling would provide me with the specialized education necessary to work in this capacity. After earning my Master of Arts in Counseling degree from Spring Arbor University, I relocated to northern Michigan and was able to secure employment with Bethany Christian Services. As a licensing specialist, I work closely with families who are interested in becoming foster and/or adoptive parents. On behalf of the State of Michigan, I evaluate the fitness of families and make a recommendation to the state regarding the family. If the state agrees with my recommendation to approve a family, the family is issued a foster home license by the State of Michigan.
On average, I work with 40 families as their licensing specialist. A majority of these families are already licensed foster/adoptive families. After evaluation and licensing, I am responsible for maintaining their home and making sure that those families remain in compliance with the foster home licensing rules. Additionally, I am the family's liaison and advocate. I identify training needs of the families and can assist with communication issues between the foster family and other members of the foster care/adoption team, including the foster child's case manager or adoption specialist.
For families who are in the process of evaluation for foster care licensure, I am able to use both my counseling and family life education skills. The licensing process is highly intrusive and lasts, at least, a few months. In working with a family throughout the licensing process, I am charged with examining each family member's past, present and future (i.e. dreams, ambitions). I use my counseling skills to assess and identify possible struggles or deficiencies. Concurrently, I use my knowledge of family life education to help families overcome these struggles or deficiencies, making them better equipped to handle the stress of welcoming and raising a foster/adoptive child.
As a licensing specialist, I am also responsible for taking foster/adoptive parents through the state-developed PRIDE training. Each prospective foster/adoptive parent must complete 24 hours of Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE) training. The PRIDE training provides foster/adoptive parents with tools to prepare them for raising a child in their home. The training includes information about child abuse and neglect and how it can affect a child's physical, emotional and social development. It also includes an entire section dedicated to attachment, along with loss and discipline, and information about maintaining a child's connections with his/her birth family. The PRIDE training curriculum gives parents the opportunity to "try on" the role of foster and/or adoptive parent before having a child in the home. I am a certified trainer in the PRIDE curriculum, and the foster/adoptive parents that I have worked with find the training to be extremely helpful.
As a PRIDE trainer, I also get the opportunity to interact with the families in a different setting. This new environment can help me identify additional strengths and/or needs within the family. Following PRIDE training sessions, the four licensing specialists in our office come together to discuss the identified strengths and needs of the families. These conversations allow us to get to know the families further, identify additional training as necessary, and get feedback about the families from a different perspective.
Teaching the PRIDE classes is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as a licensing specialist. I know that, if I provide foster/adoptive parents with the skills they need to be successful, I am ultimately serving the child and their families. However, it can be frustrating when there are prospective foster/adoptive parents that are convinced they know it all. These individuals resist the tools offered in the class, and it has been my experience that they do not do well with foster/adoptive placements. This can be frustrating because, ultimately, the child suffers due to the foster/adoptive parent's arrogance.
Aside from the PRIDE classes, a typical day for me is fairly unpredictable. With the exception of one to two days a week, I am generally conducting business in the office. I can be found writing a family's initial assessment (a report reviewed by the state that is between 13 to 20 pages) or renewal assessment, communicating with my families, or facilitating a foster home placement. During my time outside of the office, I am in the homes of my foster/adoptive families, gathering additional information about a potential family or evaluating a placement.
One of the most unpredictable parts of my job is the placement of a child in foster care. Although, ideally, the process of placing a child with a foster/adoptive family would allow for months of evaluation (of both the child and family) and careful planning, the process is sometimes accelerated in dangerous or abusive situations. The emergency placement of a child with a foster home was once my most dreaded task; however, over the past year, it has become one of my favorites. When Children's Protective Services (CPS) determines that a child can no longer safely reside with his/her caregiver and a family member has not been identified to take the child, CPS must secure placement for the child in a licensed foster home. I receive the call from a CPS worker requesting placement of the child(ren) with one of our licensed homes. I gather as much information as I can about the child(ren) from the worker and, quickly, attempt to find a family that can meet the needs of the child(ren). The task can be challenging, especially trying to locate a foster home for a sibling group or a child with severe special needs. It is, however, extremely rewarding when, even in an emergent situation, a family is a great fit for the child, and he/she is able to heal and grow.
Another difficult aspect of working in the child welfare field is managing secondary trauma. It is difficult to hear the stories from other workers and witness firsthand the wounds of abuse. Co-workers and I marvel at how even remote contact with trauma can affect us, and it is important to develop personal coping mechanisms to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Learning to manage the grief and anger associated with secondary trauma is a daily battle; however, I am in constant awe of the resiliency of even the youngest child and most distressed family.
The child welfare field can be an excellent field for family life educators. My work with children and families has been extensive and rewarding. If you are interested in working in child welfare, I encourage you to talk to professionals in the field or educators who can help direct you. If you work with students, I encourage you to build relationships with area child placement agencies. These agencies can offer excellent and diverse learning experiences to family life students. If I can be of any assistance to you or someone you know, please do not hesitate to contact me: [email protected].
Originally from Dearborn, Michigan, Rebecca Rogers currently resides in Fife Lake, Michigan with her husband, Cory, and their dog, Shooey. She has been working for Bethany Christian Services in Traverse City for nearly three years. Rebecca is presently working on becoming a fully licensed counselor in the state of Michigan. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys walking in the woods with her dog, eating cherries (a Traverse City delicacy), and spending time on the water with family and friends.