By Tonya Brooks-Thomas, SAFY of Ohio Executive Director
At Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY), we know from our work as a therapeutic foster care, adoption and family services provider that all youth need a stable home environment to achieve their full potential.
Unfortunately, we know that too often in the world of child welfare, there isn’t a home available to care for the youth who needs it. Despite exploring all available options – including a child’s relatives as well as networks of licensed foster families – the fact remains that in communities across Ohio, there are not yet enough foster families to meet the needs of foster youth.
We know that there are barriers to engaging new foster families, including misconceptions about foster youth and concerns about having the skills and capacity to support a young person who has experienced abuse or trauma, or who may have behavioral issues. Added to this are youth that we know are statistically hard to place – teenagers, sibling groups, LBGTQ+ youth and those with health and/or behavioral challenges.
Earlier this summer, we saw one example of the consequences of having too few foster families in Ohio. A Cleveland news station reported a story about a teenage boy living in the Cuyahoga County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) office building for more than a month while he waited for foster care placement. As a partner with DCFS in the fight to ensure that every child has the stable foundation of a home with loving caregivers nurturing their development, it is heartbreaking and unacceptable for our communities to allow a child of any age to live in an office building for any length of time.
When SAFY works with prospective foster families, we develop their skills for cultivating the developing minds and bodies of the young people in their care, including those who have experienced trauma. Our team of professionals offer families concrete strategies for supporting well-being and building a child’s inner resilience so they can heal from traumatic experiences and environments. We encourage prospective and existing foster parents to come with an open mind and think about parenting differently than they may have parented in the past. And, we ask them to remember that these youth are in foster care through no fault of their own, and, who have interests, gifts and talents that can be unleashed with the support of a nurturing community.
So how can communities work together to ensure all foster children have the safe, loving families all kids deserve?
- Grow the network of foster families. As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for foster families is greater than ever. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, visit safy.org/become-a-foster-parent/. SAFY is working hard to provide virtual trainings, home visits and licensing in order to continue to increase the number of licensed foster families while social distancing and following state and local health guidelines.
- Advocate for equity in child welfare. As communities are having conversations about racial injustice, it’s important to recognize the discrimination and disparities that take place even within the child welfare system. At SAFY, we are taking critical steps to offer cultural trainings and racial bias screenings for our staff as well as foster parents. To help this effort, we need everyone to be an advocate for increased equity in child welfare to help ensure all children and families have access to the supports they need to overcome trauma and thrive.
- Be an Agent of Hope. There is a great need for community support for children in foster care, foster families, families who could remain together with additional support, and older youth who are aging out of the foster care system. You can make a financial gift to help SAFY and other child welfare organizations provide clinical services and therapies, help families navigate crisis situations, and support older youth with independent living and job training programs.
In today’s day an age, it is unacceptable that any child would have to stay in an office building while waiting to be placed in a foster home. It is up to all of us to work together so all foster youth can be placed in the safe, loving and supportive families all kids need to thrive.
Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) is a child and family nonprofit preserving families and securing futures services that help families and children heal, have hope, and thrive through a model of care that includes therapeutic foster care, adoption, family preservation, behavioral health and supports for older youth. Learn more at www.SAFY.org.