The Changing Face of Foster Care

May is National Foster Care Month.  However, traditional foster care is undergoing change.

Here’s the vision of the federal Children’s Bureau:

Rather than “rescuing” children, we can—as one outstanding parent attorney explains her work to her own children—”save families.” Foster care can and should be a way to strengthen families, by building their capacities and giving them the support they need to heal and function in safe and healthy ways. It is not currently designed to operate in such ways.

At the Children’s Bureau, we believe strongly that foster care can and should be reconceptualized as a service to the entire family, as a key component in the need to create the conditions for strong and thriving families and communities where children are free from harm. Resource or foster parents can be specifically recruited and trained to be a support to families and to help create those conditions, to work alongside parents as mentors to help them realize their full potential. Foster care can be a way to form meaningful relationships and human connections, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Foster care can be a way to wrap support around a family and promote child and parent well-being, family integrity, and parental agency (Milner and Kelly, 2019:

How do we “wrap support around a family and promote child and parent well-being, family integrity, and parental agency?”  Here’s what the research says:      The key characteristics of family-centered practices include: treating families with dignity and respect; providing individual, flexible and responsive support; sharing information so families can make informed decisions; ensuring family choice regarding intervention options; and providing the necessary resources and supports for parents to care for their children in ways that produce optimal parent and child outcomes (Trivette and Dunst, 2014:

The American Bar Association has tips for foster parents to help them support reunifying children with their parents (  Here are four goals that include practical ways of achieving them:

Respect the Birth Parents and Be Compassionate

  • Believe people can change
  • Assume that things will go well
  • Understand that the families often have different life experience than you
  • Look for ways to break down barriers

 Encourage Visitation (Parenting or Family Time) and Regular Contact

  • Advocate for increased visitation whenever safe
  • Encourage children to have phone calls with family, especially during the week and multiple times per week
  • Help children video chat with their birth parents and family members

Communicate with the Family Regularly

  • Stay in constant contact; tell them it’s ok to call any time
  • Send pictures, photos, art projects, grades, etc. with the children to visits
  • Have as many early conversations with parents as possible
  • Transport kids to visits rather than using transporters if you are able

Remember that Safe Reunification is Best for the Children

  • Family units are important; parents should have their children when at all possible
  • Agencies and foster families need to prioritize reunification over adoption when possible
  • Foster parents need to be on board with reunification from the beginning
  • As long as the family is trying, it’s always better to focus on reunification

For more information, visit the National Foster Care Month website:


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director





Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month is coming up in May so now is a good time to look at the state of mental health in our nation.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a wealth of information on its website ( that is reader-friendly and practical.

Nearly 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness.  People tend to think of mental illness in terms of diagnoses such as bipolar, OCD, or schizophrenia.  But mental illness also includes more common issues such as depression and suicide.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. 90% of those who die by suicide had an underlying mental illness.  Depression and suicide have some symptoms and causes in common such as:

  • Genetics/family history
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic illness/pain
  • Trauma

Due to the widespread prevalence of depression and suicide, prevention and treatment are essential.  However, at least half of adults and children do not receive treatment for mental illness.  New research shows that abuse in childhood alters the brain to make adults more susceptible to depression (Reuters Health,  In the child welfare system two-thirds of children have mental health needs that warrant treatment while less than a quarter of these children receive services (Florida Atlantic University Study,

What can all of us do to address mental illness?  The best place to start is with knowledge and then translate knowledge into a willingness and ability to recognize and help those who are dealing with mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid is a one-day course for both professionals and lay people in learning how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in the community.  I took this course with a small- town police force and other first responders. The course has been invaluable in helping me respond to those I encounter with these issues.  An added bonus was understanding how first responders think about these issues.

Another excellent course is QPR training on suicide. The initials stand for Question, Persuade, Refer.  It employs the strategy of being strategically positioned as a gatekeeper to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide.  Online training is available that can be completed in about an hour.

To promote mental wellness, one of the best things we can do is be a friend.  Isolation and loneliness are factors in mental illness and friendship helps mitigate those factors.  As we head into Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s all look for opportunities to be a friend to someone who needs mental health!


For information on the QPR Course:

For information on Mental Health First Aid:

To view NAMI Fact Sheets:


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director



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