AUSTIN, Texas — Foster Care Awareness Month kicked off last week and, as a community effort, many local organizations are trying to encourage people to think about ways they can help children in Texas foster care.
Each day in Travis County, there are close to 1,100 children in the care of the State, and of those, 184 have been unable to be reunified with their families and are available for adoption.
Whether it's becoming a certified babysitter for families fostering kids or a mentor for children, there are many ways to volunteer for anyone not ready to take the leap into adoption or foster care.
However, if you are considering it, Chelsy Alexander, director of Foster Community, wants to help debunk some questions and concerns that she believes consistently play a big role in deterring families away from adopting or fostering.
Myth/concern #1: Adoption from foster care is expensive.
Alexander: "Adoption from foster care is not expensive, speaking personally from experience to someone who has adopted two children from foster care. There are some costs upfront, a couple of hundred dollars maybe, and a lot of times some agencies can support you through that. Then, there is preparing for a child, which you do that anyway. Whether you were having biological children or adopting or fostering, you are always preparing to have children come into your home. There is a stark difference between private adoption and adopting through foster care. It does not cost a whole lot of money to adopt. Even as you go through the adoption process, there is funding to help offset that cost so that you are not incurring a lot of cost as a family to adopt.
Myth/concern #2: I won't be allowed to adopt because I am gay/single/have other kids/too young/too old/different ethnicity/criminal background
Alexander: "When we're talking about foster care and adoption or even volunteering, families of all shapes and sizes are welcome to get involved in some way. Whether you have kids, whether you're single or anything of that nature, you can get involved in some way even folks who may have some criminal history. Everybody has a background. Everybody's coming from different circumstances. They've been given different opportunities. We just encourage you to talk with an agency representative about your history so they can help you determine if you could qualify to be a foster or adoptive parent."
Myth/concern #3: What if the child's family wants to take them back?
Alexander: "Once you adopt, that child is legally yours. What we do encourage is that families are open to connections with biological parents or extended family members because what we do know is that children do best when they are close to people who know them and who they were around before they were involved in child welfare. So, we just want to make sure that families know legally, once you adopt, they are yours, but you are opening your arms to more than just the kiddos but the family altogether."
Myth/concern #4: There will be no support for me.
Alexander: "Support is a huge thing when you are adopting or you're fostering, you really need the support. But one of the biggest things is that we have agencies that have support built in for you. So, while you will have the CPS worker, when you get licensed with agencies, you also have a case manager that will walk with you through whatever season you're in the process. There's crisis intervention for you if that's even needed. There's so many different resources out there through different foster care and adoption organizations that want to make sure that children and families have everything that they need no matter what part of the foster care system they're involved in."
Myth/concern #5: Why the need for families of color?
Alexander: "We want to make sure that these families that have this lived experience, that have been at the table, that have some involvement with the child welfare system or maybe have even had it and they've been reunified with their families ... they have a seat at the table to talk about what's going on and what they need to make sure that we can decrease the disproportionality within Central Texas."
Myth/concern #6: What can people do who can't foster/ adopt?
Alexander: "One of the biggest things I hear is 'I can't, I don't qualify to be a foster and adoptive parent and so I can't do anything else.' We need you to still volunteer in some way. One of the biggest needs that we have is for families to get trained to be babysitters and respite care providers. That is just getting some additional training. You're not going to go through the whole foster care process, but you will get some training under your belt so that you can support kinship families. You can support foster families that are walking through this process right now to make sure that they have some additional support with them. You can also just volunteer. There's so many different organizations that do support families that are involved in the child welfare system or even at risk of involvement with the child welfare system. So, you can find out who those are by visiting the foster community website. And there's lots of places that you can get engaged in."
How to help
As part of Foster Care Awareness month, local child welfare organizations are working together with Fostering Hope to recruit community members who are looking to support foster families and children in the Austin community by providing short-term childcare. Fostering Hope partners with local child-placing agencies to meet the state’s requirements for foster care babysitters.
The next training dates for babysitter training are coming up in July, and are hosted virtually. If you are looking for a way to get involved and make a difference with children like the ones we feature each week on Forever Families please visit the Heart Gallery website to find the link to register.
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