Throughout the many years that I have worked at KVC, I have to say nothing has inspired me more than the parents who have worked hard to overcome incredible obstacles in order to safely reunify with their children. I have been a therapist in KVC’s Aftercare program for three years, working alongside parents who have completed the work necessary to have their children safely return home after being in foster care.
Our team of in-home family therapists provide ongoing services to families for one year following reintegration in order to ensure that the family continues to succeed. It’s our goal to keep children safe and stable in their homes, as well as connect families with a multitude of community services including medical or behavioral health services, education or legal assistance.
Due to a unique and successful public/private partnership with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, KVC Kansas helps safely reunite nearly 60% of Kansas children in state custody with their families. The determination and success of these parents is something to be celebrated. There are many important things to be learned from these parents and they might not be what you expect!
Here are five important things I’ve learned from parents over the years:
Parents never stop loving their children
When a judge makes the decision to remove a child from his or her home, that does not mean that their parents don’t love the child. When parents are pressed for time, money and resources, it can be difficult to provide the very best for a child. I have witnessed firsthand just how much parents involved in the child welfare system love their children and the sadness they feel just as any parent would when their children are not in the home. The work we do connects those families with the skills and resources they need in order to become the best parents for their children.
Children don’t come with an instruction manual
Even with all the technology and resources available in the world today, children don’t come with an instruction manual! Many of us learn parenting skills from observing the way our parents raised us, and that example can be either positive or negative. While there is no simple guide, there are many proven models and time-tested skills that every parent can benefit from learning. Learn more about the 12 parenting skills of Parent Management Training – Oregon Model (PMTO).
Families need to identify and heal from trauma
Our therapists consistently uncover a history of traumatic experiences when working with families in the child welfare system. Adults who have experienced trauma such as abuse, neglect or chronic poverty or who did not have positive, supportive caregivers in their lives may not have had the chance to learn healthy parenting skills prior to raising their own children. Families can carry trauma throughout their lives and they pass it down to their children. We work with parents to let go of toxic relationships and find positive ways to cope with painful experiences without the use of drugs and alcohol.
We all need to practice compassion
All families face unique challenges, and some challenges may be difficult to overcome without support from caring professionals. For many of the families KVC serves, we are intervening at what may be the lowest point in their lives. It is everyone’s responsibility to help others who are struggling and get them back on their feet and set up for ongoing success. These parents have climbed a mountain of obstacles in order to become stronger, confident individuals. There have been many occasions where parents have told me, “I felt like you were the only person there for me. You believed that I could succeed. And you listened to me and helped me navigate through a difficult time in my life. You never judged me or made me feel like less of a human being.” We can all be that person in someone’s life.
Families deserve support, understanding and forgiveness
Parents who have safely reunited with their children have fought so hard to make that happen. The determination I see from parents when navigating through the ups and downs of achieving reunification is so remarkable to witness. It’s not a smooth ride for all, but when the families are able to take down their walls of anxiety and distrust, our team is able to build an amazing bond with them in order to achieve their goals. I am always so inspired when a parent is able to exit the child welfare system with a positive view of their experience, realizing it gave them a chance to become a better version of themselves and a better parent for their children. They can identify and take responsibility for their mistakes and use the new skills they have learned to do better.
These families are an inspiration and we shine the spotlight on them during National Family Reunification Month each June at our Families United celebrations. Focusing on each family’s strengths and resiliency, rather than their faults, leads to wonderful people succeeding in ways they may not have thought possible.