“What Inspired You To Work With Youth in Foster Care?” 14 Staff Members Share Their Stories

To commemorate social work appreciation month, we turned the spotlight to the real engine of change at the Coalition: our program staff.

We interviewed 14 of them so they could share their journey in the child welfare field – what inspired them to do this work, some of their favorite aspects, words of wisdom for the community, and hopes for the future. Their responses? Beyond inspiring!

Our staff’s unmatched passion, innovation, and care in the pursuit of justice for kids impacted by foster care radiate from each one of their answers. They fiercely work to overcome the challenges of an imperfect child welfare system, to connect with kids, guard their best interest, and ensure their voices are heard. They truly believe in kids, and are intentional in affirming their value to help give youth the confidence they need to flourish. They work tirelessly so that every child can have a safe and loving home.

These incredible individuals not only want to make a difference, but their ultimate goal is to work themselves out of a job! We dream that one day, communities are so strong and children are so loved that our services are no longer needed. Until then, these dedicated professionals are ready to stand up for our kids and families.

Cheers to all child welfare professionals in the field! Thank you for your hard work and dedication to keep our community’s children safe.

As you read these powerful interviews, we hope you are as inspired as we were!

Coalition: What inspired you to work with youth in foster care?

Program Staff:

  • I really loved working with teenagers and found that it was a great opportunity for me to work directly with teens. Once I started working with teenagers in foster care, I became passionate about giving them autonomy to make decisions for themselves when safe and healthy. It’s always been my favorite part of working with foster and adoptive youth.
  • Working in foster care was not my plan, but once I entered this world, the desire to advocate and help our children was the only place I could envision myself working.
  • I was a foster/adoptive parent and was faced with many challenges advocating for my placements and navigating the systems.
  • My daughter came to me at the age of 5 as a relative placement. I knew virtually nothing about the foster care system, trauma, or even raising a kid. She initially had many strong behaviors and emotions, and it seemed like no one in the system knew what to do or how to help. Those issues bled into the school, whereby in 3rd grade, she had been suspended 50+ times. Knowing the struggles she had, especially in school, made me realize that some out there have it so much harder because they don’t know how to navigate the educational systems. If I, as an educator, struggled so greatly, it would be nearly impossible for someone who didn’t know the system to figure it all out.
  • I did my undergrad practicum in a foster care agency and was really struck by how difficult the lives of children in foster care are. There is no control over where you live, where you can go to school, when you can see your family, or when you can travel. I thought that maybe if I could help children with any small thing to make their lives a little easier, I wanted to be that person.
  • My community inspired me. I always knew I wanted to be part of the helping field. Being a part of Child Welfare and assisting in some fashion to ensure that children are protected was a goal for me for a very long time.
  • I really enjoy working with teenagers.
  • My mom entered foster care at birth and was adopted, and I have many family members and friends who were adopted. When I was in high school, I took a social justice class and researched the foster care system, which sparked my interest in becoming a Social Worker. As soon as I began studying social work in college, I knew that my dream job was to work with children in foster care.
  • During my undergraduate work, I chose to do my practicum (internship) at the Illinois Dept. of Children & Family Services. The rest is history, and I’m in my 31st year. I’m still working to improve the foster care system and the little lives it impacts.
  • Throughout my upbringing, I was called upon to care for significant loved ones. My experience caring for my own family guided me towards the field of social work.
  • I, like many others in the field, stumbled into it. Once I was in, I found my passion for connecting kids with family, and I am hooked!
  • Seeing the struggles of my foster/adopted nephews firsthand made me want to do everything in my power to make the world of every foster and adoptive youth a little bit brighter.
  • My mother was raised in an abusive and vulnerable environment growing up. As I learned more about her story, I was in awe of her resilience and knew that more could have been done to protect her. I knew from a young age that I would devote my life to the care and protection of children. She serves as my inspiration.
  • I began working with STL CASA in 2016, and that experience opened my eyes to the unique needs of children in foster care. I was also able to see firsthand the huge impact that just one person can have on a child in foster and adoptive youth.  From these experiences, I eventually choose to work with foster and adoptive youth, but I also became a foster parent.

Coalition: What is your favorite part of working with kids impacted by foster care?

Program Staff:

  • My favorite part about working with children impacted by foster care is watching how much they grow and develop when they’re allowed to make certain decisions for themselves and have a voice in their future. So often, I think we as adults can get stuck in making difficult decisions without ever wondering what the child might want. Does the child want to stay in their original school? Do they want to come to court and talk to the judge or not? What would they like for lunch after a hard appointment? I think the littlest things can help children develop into the adults that they eventually become, and I love seeing that evolution in kids I’ve known for years.
  • Those small victories, because we often don’t see the big ones.
  • Witnessing the transformation of a family as they heal and repair.
  • Their smiles. These kids have often been through the worst and seen more than most adults have…but yet you get them on the basketball court or start talking about their favorite movie, and their faces still light up in the biggest smiles.
  • I love that look when they’ve learned or done something new – trusted someone enough to be hugged, discovered how their trauma impacts them, been vulnerable enough to cry, felt safe enough to express a differing opinion, or set boundaries with others to help themselves grow – this is the deep work of children in foster care, and I love watching that process.
  • Seeing families overcome difficult situations.
  • I really like teenage humans. I think they are an unappreciated demographic.
  • I have a lot of favorite parts of working with kids impacted by foster care, but I think my most favorite is the small (but big) victories. When I have a breakthrough conversation with one of my kiddos or hear a kiddo being able to express themselves after not doing so for so long, those small (but big) victories make all of the hard work worth it.
  • Providing them with opportunities to be kids and enjoy the moment.
  • Ultimately, reunification is the ideal outcome. The reunification process gives me personally and the agency I work for the opportunity and the privilege to reconnect families.  The more we increase successful reunification, the more we reduce stress on the foster home demand.
  • My favorite thing about working with children in foster care is sharing experiences with them. Every child comes from their own unique background, but we all have similarities as well.
  • Well, I love working with kids – so I love working with kids impacted by foster care. Because that is what they are – just kids.  Their ability to grow, change and heal is always inspiring and incredible.

Coalition: If you could tell the world anything about foster care, what would it be?

Program Staff:

  • Children’s lives are better when, if possible, they can have connections to biological families. I have seen some really beautiful blended families where foster or adoptive parents and birth families can be a part of the child’s life together. Children need all the love they can get, and when appropriate communication and healthy boundaries are in place, it’s a beautiful thing.
  • We are all just one mistake away from being in the system. The families we work with and the children we serve could very easily be ours, and no matter what, they deserve respect and understanding.
  • Becoming a Foster Parent requires more than the motivation to love a child and to want to provide a “safe” environment….it requires unconditional commitment and providing lifelong connections.
  • Anyone involved in foster care in any aspect needs more support than they are getting. Caseworkers are tired and overloaded, biological families often feel so much shame and powerlessness and sometimes just need supports to help them succeed, foster families are dealing with children who have experienced the worst and just need someone there for them, and the kids need a trauma-informed and caring village around them to love on them and support them.
  • That it just takes ONE positive connection to increase resiliency in kiddos. Become a respite provider. Donate clothes, shoes, diapers, luggage to local foster care agencies. Become a mentor. Most of all, treat all children with empathy. Be that ONE person.
  • Children deserve more than what we are providing to them.
  • It’s a system that needs a lot of work.
  • If I could tell the world anything about foster care, it would be that getting involved is so worth it. People often say that they are afraid of getting attached or it seems too risky, but the good outweighs the bad, and the benefits outweigh the risks. Not everyone has the capacity to become a foster parent, but you can volunteer, organize, and donate. No amount of time or energy or heart is too little!
  • No one is happy when a child is removed from the home and placed in foster care.
  • Foster care is a necessary and beneficial service and/or calling; however, over the years, the integrity of foster care in some regard has deteriorated. Foster care has been monetized to the extent that children’s best interests are not properly considered in regards to placement decisions and efforts towards reunification with family.  Furthermore, the administration of foster contracts, which includes a daily rate of care per child, often drives budgetary decisions that frequently impact a child’s permanency.
  • I think there’s a common misconception that children in foster care need to be “fixed,” when really they just need a change of parenting styles. Sometimes fixing the caregiver is the actual challenge.
  • I would eradicate the stigma surrounding foster children and help people understand that kids are in foster care through no fault of their own. They are deserving and worthy of stable childhoods, love, and nurturing like every other child.
  • The day-to-day of foster care is pretty normal – kids go to school, have birthday parties, make friends, scrape their knees, and have beautiful lives. Yes, there are difficult times and trauma to work through, but foster care is often the safety net that allows families to heal and move forward during adversity.

Coalition: In a perfect world, what would foster care look like?

Program Staff:

  • In a perfect world, foster care would not exist. Families would have the resources and ability to provide for children close to them and have community supports to keep children in the home. Foster parents can be incredibly loving and supportive, and in the current system, I think that should not be dismissed. But in a perfect world, we would not have children entering a state system.
  • There would be no foster care.
  • Unfortunately, there is no perfect foster care. The initiative to become more skilled in caring for our families would mean the whole child welfare system would be trained to increase knowledge in trauma and teaming skills.
  • It would look like a well-oiled machine where all parts talked to each other; where child welfare workers would not be overworked and  could really get to know the children and families (bio and foster) they serve. All families would feel absolutely supported in every aspect of caring for their children.
  • Entire communities focused on healing trauma! Linking new foster parents with experienced respite providers who live close by from day 1; education and certification for mental health professionals working with children and teens with trauma; acknowledging and treating case manager burnout on a macro-scale so that the child’s worker doesn’t leave after a year; not having to wait on a list for a referral for mentoring because everyone in your community is dedicated to being a natural support for children.
  • Foster care would keep children as close to their origins as possible when there was a true need for them to be outside of their home. Foster care would be minimal because resources would be abundant. Every need would be met quickly because caseload sizes would be reasonable for every child welfare worker. Foster care experiences would be reduced because services would be plentiful. The voice of the children and family would be the primary source of direction.
  • In a perfect world, foster care would not exist.
  • In a “perfect” world, I don’t think the foster care system would exist or be needed. In an ideal world, foster care would be much more family-friendly. We would support families more before children need to be removed from homes, and if it did come down to removal being necessary, we would always try to place with relatives or kin. We would support parents more through services that they genuinely need, and we would be able to offer more supports to make time spent in foster care less traumatic for children.
  • In a perfect world, everyone would work together, always focusing on the child’s best interest.
  • In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a need for foster care and/or adoption; however, my vision for a better foster care system is that children are not treated like foster children.
  • I would love to see foster care be shorter-term and far more geared towards reunification with parents.
  • Significant funding would go toward prevention services and supporting birth families, and kids would only come into foster care when absolutely necessary. Foster youth would be thoughtfully and intentionally placed with family members or foster families who are a good fit for that particular child instead of being with the first available placement.
  • In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need it. Otherwise, I’d love to see relative placement and family finding be the absolute standard for all our kids. I would like to have less dependence on traditional foster homes and residential placements, especially because evidence already shows that stability and permanency outcomes are better for children living in relative care.
  • I want children to have a childhood they do not feel the need to escape from. A childhood full of love and belonging regardless of whether or not they enter foster care. In a perfect world, foster care would be seen as a community-based need instead of an issue isolated to individual families.  Community action and wrap-around services would provide biological families and foster families with the same level of support, and everyone would be treated with dignity.
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