In honor of National Foster Care Month we are catching up with a few SAM clients to learn about their unique missions and impact on the foster care system.
Today feature the work of Sierra Forever Families, a nonprofit adoption agency located in California and Nevada focused on foster-to-adopt programs.
Heather Bollier, Permanency Supervisor for the Destination Family Program, and Terrie Lund, the organization's grant writer, filled us in on their Sierra's mission, challenges, and successes.
Heather has a background in both social work and education and taught in school grades K through 12. Through the years, Heather found that it was the 1:1 relationships with the youth who would congregate in her classroom at lunch and after school rather than the large group classes that “fed her soul”.
She left the classroom and found her calling working with youth in mental health and adoption services. Heather has been with Sierra Forever Families for eight years and is currently the Permanency Supervisor with the Destination Family Program.
Tell us a little bit about how your agency supports youth in the foster care system. Do you have any programs or initiatives that set you apart?
What sets Sierra Forever Families apart is our focus on foster children who are labeled “difficult to place” – those medically fragile, ethnically diverse, older, or part of a sibling set who should not be separated.
What challenges does your agency face as part of your foster care program?
Working with children and youth who are part of the foster care system can be challenging. Children in foster care are disproportionately poor, lag behind in school, and have suffered the negative effects of having lived in often violent family and community environments. These children and youth, who lack a strong relationship with a caring adult while growing up, are much more vulnerable to academic failure and involvement in serious at-risk behaviors.
If a forever home is not found for these youth, they have little option other than to stay in the foster care system until they ‘age-out’ at 18 - 20 years old. And then, they become the most “at-risk” youth group. Many will enter the adult world without basic living skills. Research shows that when teens age-out from foster care without a permanent connection to a consistent, caring adult, their future is bleak, and sometimes, tragic.
Tell us a bit more about the consequences of "aging out" of the system
Research shows that within two to four years of aging-out, over 50% of these will be homeless, victimized, incarcerated, or dead. Also shocking is the statistic that 65% of emancipated and unwed females will be pregnant by the age of 20. In 2014, 76% of the youth aging-out of foster care in Sacramento County were unemployed and 39% did not finish high school.
What is one thing you wish the public understood about foster care?
It is important to remember that even though youth in the foster care system come from chaotic early environments, they have the same hopes and dreams of every child and can be extremely resilient, if given the support of programs and services like those of Sierra Forever Families.
How has foster care changed in the past 15 years?
There have been many positive changes in foster care over the past 15 years. Research supports the need for more financial and therapeutic support for foster parents and children before, during and after the adoption process to ensure that all members of the new family have the skills to address the needs of the changing family at all stages of development.
Further, there has been legislation that is making the adoption process easier and exchange of information such as results of background checks or qualification studies more efficient across county and state boundaries.
There are also processes that will soon launch that allow for potential parents to have a single process to licenses their home to provide for foster care and adoption thus streamlining the procedure.
How is technology helping (or hurting) work in foster care?
Technology is playing a key role in improving the work in foster care. SAM allows staff to enter data and access it in real time versus cumbersome paper files. This improved ease of access allows organizations to make decisions based on data, identify” bottlenecks” in work processes, and take corrective steps to ensure work flows efficiently and services are effective.
One Sierra Forever Families’ social worker reported attending a meeting with County workers and, when the group discussion needed supporting data, the Sierra social worker pulled out her phone, accessed the required information from the Sierra SAM site, and found reported to the other meeting participants. Other members of the group were amazed by the “real time” access and reported that they were “jealous” of the speedy access to the data.
What are your hopes for the future of foster care?
Despite the challenges of working in the foster care system, there is a hopeful future when there are organization like Sierra Forever Families that believe that NO child should grow up in temporary care and ALL children need the love, safety and unconditional commitment of a permanent family.