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A New Beginning for Us All, (Article by Commissioner Katz)
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DCF is creating new ways of interacting with foster parents to better support children.
By DCF Commissioner, Joette Katz
At the Department of Children and Families, we care about children. We want kids whose families have been torn apart to have some normalcy in their lives. We want them to feel safe and wanted, and to know that people care about them. We want them to feel part of their communities, play on sports teams, go to birthday parties and go on vacation.
We want them to have breakfast in the morning with the same people who put them to bed at night. But that will require us to recruit more foster families and do a better job of retaining the ones we have.
In the past, DCF has not always fulfilled its promise to foster parents. Our foster parents have told us that, over the years, department workers have not always given them enough information, provided them with the appropriate help and supports, or shown them the respect and appreciation they deserve. Sometimes, foster parents have reached out to caseworkers for help or advice, and waited far too long for a response.
But a new day has dawned. When I stepped down from my position as a Supreme Court justice in the winter of 2011, it was because I felt compelled to make a difference for the most vulnerable children in our state. As a judge, I frequently saw the disturbing results of a society that didn’t do enough to care for its children: parents charged with abusing their offspring, and kids in trouble with the law.
As a mom, I couldn’t bear the thought that our children were falling through the cracks. After taking the helm as commissioner of the DCF, I gathered a team to get Connecticut’s largest government agency back on the right track – to find out what was wrong, and figure out how best to make necessary changes.
Over the past year, we’ve been working on a report called “We All Need Somebody,” aimed at clarifying our mission and procedures so that foster families and foster children receive the highest level of care and support.
That report is our road map to the future. It looks at everything from how we recruit to how quickly we license foster parents; how we put needed services in a foster home and keep kids out of congregate care. This is a time of tremendous momentum and change. We are revamping our system from end to end and from top to bottom. From the minute you call DCF, you will not only get a friendly, responsive person on the other end of the line, but information, training, licensing and support – everything you need to make an informed decision, know where you stand throughout the licensing process, and connect with a child who desperately needs your care.
Those who become foster parents will also receive the resources they need: health insurance for the child, a monthly stipend, and access to programs, activities and resources that will make their experience more manageable and more rewarding.
If you’ve thought of fostering a child but are concerned that you may not be able to afford it, don’t worry. Fostering a child will not cost you anything but love. We even pay the cost of sending that child to college.
Our job – and yours – has also been made easier by new legislation that allows us, for the first time, to share personal background information about any medical and emotional challenges that children may have as a result of issues in their previous environment. Armed with better information and more comprehensive support, foster parents will be better equipped and more confident about meeting their foster child’s needs.
Many prospective foster parents have concerns about how a new child, especially one who comes from a difficult background, will blend in with their existing family. We know that these children may act out, especially in the beginning. That’s because, perhaps for the first time in their life, they feel safe to express their emotions. They are not used to structure – the family structure that you’re providing.
But as our existing foster families tell us, helping a child transition from feelings of fear, anger and hopelessness to ones of comfort, safety and warmth is one of the most gratifying experiences they’ve ever had. And involving their biological children in that process has allowed the family to relate on a deeper level and develop shared values and memories that last a lifetime.
No matter what your concern, we are here for you, in more and better ways than ever before. We know what needs to be done, and we have committed to providing the highest level of service possible.
Caring for the at-risk children in our community is an enormous undertaking. We know it’s not just about coming up with great ideas; it’s about following up and implementing. I’m determined to deliver on every promise I make, and what I can promise is better partnership. Let’s work together to help the children who need us the most.