Mission Capital’s Aligned Impact team has worked alongside members of the Travis County Collaborative for Children (TCCC) to help facilitate effective collaboration among child welfare organizations on the common theme of trauma-informed training and supporting youth and families in the foster care system. In 2016, Mission Capital completed the Central Texas Foster Family Gap Analysis which showed that there’s a dire need for more healing families.
That’s where Foster Community comes in – a foster family and volunteer recruitment initiative rooted in the belief that the challenges in the foster care system are too complex to be tackled by a single entity. Foster Community engages with nonprofit and government partner organizations dedicated to serving children in care.
To learn more about Foster Community’s growing network and how everyone can get involved, I sat down with Ana Acosta, the initiative’s Community Engagement Specialist.
You used to be a teacher and have a background in education. How did that lead you to becoming involved in foster care, and eventually serving in this role at Foster Community?
All the schools I worked in were Title 1 schools, with a high percentage of students from low income households, and a lot of my students were in foster care. Every so often, I’d have social workers inside my classroom, grabbing kids in a hurry, and rushing out the door.
There was one instance where I had to report that one of my students was being abused. Two days later, a social worker came into my classroom and took the student. I never saw her again. I tried to keep track of her, but by the time I was in touch with someone, she was already moved. That was when first I experienced the challenges of the foster care system for myself. One day you have a student absent, and the next, you learn that they won’t be coming back.
As a teacher, I know how having one adult that cares about a child and believes in them can sometimes be that child’s only hope.
It was hard to teach kids how to read and write when you know they’re worrying about where they’re going to and if they’re going to see their families again.
When I learned about Foster Community, I was immediately interested by its innovative approach to overcoming challenges in the foster care system, and wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of helping children in our community’s foster care find an adult to believe in and inspire them.
You mentioned your first encounter navigating the foster care system to find one of your students. How has the system changed since then? What are the issues facing the foster care system today?
The system hasn’t changed much. In Central Texas, children in care change homes an average of three times before being adopted. And most times, the homes they’re placed in are way outside of Travis County lines, uprooting them from their communities and completely disrupting their daily lives. For most kids, they’ll spend an average of three years living this way before finding a permanent home.
At the root of these statistics is that there’s not enough foster families in Central Texas to provide the loving and healing homes these kids need. But, these current challenges are not going to be solved by a single organization. It takes a community. Unless we get people involved through volunteering and recruit more foster families in our community, we’re not going to be able to make a difference in the system.
How is Foster Community contributing to foster family recruitment efforts?
Foster Community centralizes the efforts of organizations serving children in care. We provide an extra layer of support and coordination to ensure work isn’t being duplicated, and connect people and organizations so no one has to work in isolation. Because of this, work is done collectively to create a greater impact.
Additionally, FosterCommunity.org is an incredible tool to connect volunteers and potential foster parents with organizations in need of their support. While recruiting foster families, we’ve been intentional in our efforts to address a wider population of our community, reaching those from different faith-based communities, communities of color and LGBTQ communities, who might not have been asked before to engage with foster care.
We know that not everyone is ready to become a foster parent, so how does someone interested in the cause, but not quite ready to make that commitment, help children in care thrive?
There are tons of different ways to help. It’s true that not all individuals are ready to adopt or foster, but that’s not the only way to make an impact in a child’s life. There’s a wide range of volunteer opportunities available. Opportunities vary on engagement level as well, so individuals interested in volunteering can choose their involvement. Supporting one of our nonprofit Foster Community partners is also great way to get started.
Is there an immediate need for a specific volunteer role in our community?
Right now, we’re recruiting babysitters and respite caregivers for children in foster care. These caregivers allow foster parents to have some much needed “me time”, while knowing that their child’s unique needs are being met by a certified caregiver. I actually just became a certified caregiver myself. All it took was some training and a background check. I especially encourage people on the fence about fostering to consider this volunteer opportunity. There’s a huge need, and it’s an ideal way to gain an understanding of what fostering is like. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet foster families and learn firsthand from them what their experience has been like.
Interested in learning more about foster care involvement? You can take action to help children in care thrive by attending Foster Community’s first-ever Family Night hosted at Thinkery on February 7! Come meet foster families and representatives from local nonprofits dedicated to serving children in foster care. Adoption and Foster Care information session will be held at 6:30 pm in Room #1. RSVP today!