To elevate social workers in honor of National Social Work month, we are highlighting the focus and strengths of our clients to learn about their unique missions and impact on child welfare.
Today we feature Amara - a nonprofit based in Seattle, WA with a focus on foster-to-adopt programs.
Trey Rabun, Amara's Family Outreach Specialist, shared with us how Amara is creating a "better path" for youth and families in the foster care system.
How did you wind up working in this role?
After I spent almost four and a half years at Amara as one our social workers who worked directly licensing and supporting foster parents, Amara created my position in April 2016 to help address the current foster home shortage occurring in Washington State. I always enjoyed public speaking and connecting with people in the community, so making the transition to outreach and recruitment was a natural next step.
Tell us a little bit about how your agency supports youth in the foster system. Do you have any programs or initiatives that set you apart?
Amara’s client is the child and we seek to find families who are a good fit to support the needs of children in foster care. As a private agency, we provide additional support and case management to our foster parents.
One thing that sets Amara apart is that we work with foster children from the day they enter foster care, with our Emergency Sanctuary program, and continue to support them until they either return home or are adopted. We have a Post-Adoption Support program for adoptees and their adoptive parents for the life of their family. Amara also has always valued diversity in family configurations and proudly works with single and same-sex foster families.
What challenges does your agency face as a part of your foster care program?
The challenge is not unique to Amara, but recruitment of foster families is currently a struggle both locally and nationally. This was the impetus in creating my role; the idea is that prospective foster families could have one point of contact at Amara to answer their questions and check-in with them up until the time they decide to apply to our agency or pursue another route to become a foster parent.
What common misconceptions does the public have about the foster system?
I have heard several misconceptions about foster care. One is that you must be rich and own your home to become a foster parent. This is not true: you can be single or partnered, you can rent your home or apartment, and don’t need to make a lot of money as the state helps support foster parents to offset the cost of caring for a foster child.
I’ve also heard that all foster children are “damaged” and have significant behavioral or other types of special needs. While it’s true some foster children have delays and other issues due to the neglect or abuse they experienced, foster children are also very resilient and it’s amazing to see the progress they can make in their development once they are placed into safe, stable home where their needs are being met.
The public can also have negative impressions about foster parents because they hear negative stories about foster parents who do not treat their foster children well or think that they are only in it for the money. However, the clear majority of foster parents are selfless individuals who are opening their home to care for a child in need and continue to do this even when things aren’t easy. In terms of the money, I’m a foster parent myself and I always laugh at the idea that someone is a foster parent to make money because there is no stiped left at the end of the month once you buy food, diapers, and clothes (and I coupon ☺ ).
What is one thing you wish the public understood about foster care?
The need for more foster families. Due to the current opioid addiction crisis and growing income equality, we are seeing the numbers of children foster care rise while the numbers of foster home are declining, or at best, staying steady and not increasing to meet the need.
How has foster care changed in the past 15 years?
I’ve been in the field for about 7-8 years now, but during this time I’ve seen things get more complicated as neglect has become the overwhelming reason why children are coming into foster care (as compared to physical or sexual abuse.) It becomes harder to provide adequate services for a family who lacks the resources to access housing support, medical services, and drug treatment which makes it harder to gauge whether reunification will be successful or not.
How is technology helping (or hurting) work in foster care?
At Amara we are excited to see a number of ways in which technology is helping in the child welfare arena. Our friends at Partners for our Children are doing some amazing things with visualizing child welfare data as well as creating software for supervised visitation, licensing foster parents, and youth homeless services. And, of course, we are getting ready to launch our own installation of SAM and know that it will make things lightyears easier for our families, social workers, and volunteers.
What are your hopes for the future of foster care?
That the stigma around foster care and children goes away and that we begin to see it as a community issue that affects everyone and not just those involved with the system. Children and families live in communities, and if we all stepped up to provide support on whatever level we can I think we could prevent more children coming into foster care. I also wish state foster care systems were adequately funded so state social workers could have smaller, more manageable caseloads to better serve the children and families they work with daily.