Giving thanks

....and giving back

Before we get into the busy-ness of the Christmas season, we have a moment at Thanksgiving to reflect on the year gone by and give thanks for the people we, too often, take for granted during the year. So, to all of you who have supported me during this past year, through both good times and challenges, know how much I appreciate you and give thanks for your friendship and support (and readership!).

Thanksgiving is also a good time for us to be reminded that no matter how hard we try in child welfare to care for the children and youth we serve, there are going to be times when they are lonely. The holidays are, unfortunately for many, one of those lonely times. Our foster parents and group homes do their best to show love for children and youth separated from their parents, but we know there’s only so much we can do. Youth who are in extended foster care or who have aged out of the system often don’t have a “home” to go to over the holidays.

There are ways we can help more, though, and here are a few suggestions.

First, look up Connections Homes and consider becoming a part of their network of families who mentor youth aging out of the foster care system. You might meet a young man like Sebastian, pictured here, who grew up without parents, moved around a lot during his childhood, and ended up aging out of the foster care system at 21. Fortunately, during the past few years he has had a mentoring family, Russ and Olivia, who are there to support him as he finds his footing in the adult world and starts making it on his own. The three have grown so close together as family that they are going to become a “real” family through adoption. In the holidays to come, can’t you see yourself inviting a young adult who has experienced foster care to enjoy your Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or Fourth of July celebrations?

Second, think about becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. A lot of folks think of the CASA’s role as chiefly advocating for children and youth in juvenile court, but it’s a lot more. As Georgia CASA’s Angela Tyner says, CASA is also about helping children connect with family and community, helping them find stability and “normalcy,” and overcoming barriers to forging those important family connections.

Third, consider teaming up with an organization that supports foster parents, biological parents, case managers, and others working within the system. There are a number of these organizations I like to call the “USOs of child welfare” in that while they may not always provide direct services such as foster care, they are supporting foster and biological parents and working to improve the morale of case managers. Take a look at Promise 686’s Family Advocacy Ministries and see how you or your church might join in these efforts. There’s also Called to Care and the Hope 1312 Collective, as well as others!

Finally, don’t forget to participate in efforts to ensure every child in foster care gets Christmas gifts this year. Through Clark Howard and Georgia DFCS’ Clark’s Christmas Kids program and other efforts, for example, the 10,000 children in Georgia’s foster care system will have a much merrier Christmas.

If you know of other organizations that are brightening the lives of those caught up in the child welfare system — children, their parents, foster parents, and case managers — please let us know in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tom