The Close of Foster and Adoptive Family Services’ 40th Anniversary Celebration

For 40 years, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) has provided support, training and advocacy to meet the special needs of foster, adoptive and kinship families, who provide safe, stable and nurturing homes for children in foster care. As our 40th year comes to a close, FAFS CEO Mary Jane Awrachow reflects on what this anniversary means for FAFS moving forward.

A message from FAFS’ CEO Mary Jane Awrachow :

There are three words that signify what the 40th Anniversary of Foster and Adoptive Family Services has meant to us.

The first word is celebration.

40th Anniversary CelebrationThis anniversary was a celebration of how FAFS has grown during our 40 years. From our humble beginnings, when Hattie Talley and Sue and Bernie Dondiego sat around a kitchen table in 1972 to the fully staffed robust and active organization we are today, we’ve expanded our services to cover the needs of foster, adoptive and kinship parents. Continue reading

The Transition of FAFS – With Change, the Mission Remains the Same

The New Jersey Foster Parent Association (NJFPA, now Foster and Adoptive Family Services or FAFS) began in a foster parent’s home in Middlesex County, New Jersey in the early 1970s. As the need for advocacy grew, FAFS obtained a contract from the state and eventually moved from New Brunswick to Trenton, New Jersey. This brought the NJFPA in closer proximity to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), which is now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). A lot of progression has occurred since then. However, with the transition of FAFS and the many changes that have occurred it rings true that with change, the mission remains the same.

the transition of fafsFAFS was headquartered in Trenton throughout the 1980s before returning to its permanent home in Middlesex County in 1994. Sue Dondiego, one of FAFS’ founders noted, “From its humble beginnings as an all volunteer organization to the present day, FAFS has focused their time, talents and hard work to develop programs, projects and activities that would improve the lives of resource parents and the children in their care.” What started with just a handful of people in 1974 has developed into an organization of many people with the talents and backgrounds that form the thriving group FAFS is today. Continue reading

A Brief History of Resource Family Rates

For a long time, resource family rates in New Jersey were stagnant and did not correlate with the actual cost of raising a child. But with the help of FAFS and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, rates are now linked to the USDA and are updated annually.

Resource Family RatesWe have a story we like to tell here at Foster and Adoptive Family Services.

It involves our co-founder Sue Dondiego. She was standing before the Legislature at the State House in Trenton in the 1970s to fight for increased resource family rates. At the time, the monthly clothing allowance for a child in foster care was about equal to one-third of the price of a new children’s coat. Continue reading

Fighting for Foster Children: Mrs. Dondiego Goes to Trenton

She had never done this before, but that fact wasn’t going to stop her.

Sue Dondiego, our foster care organization’s founder and a stay-at-home foster mom, stood before legislators at the State House in Trenton in the 1970s, fighting for foster children’s rights.

“It was scary,” Dondiego said. “I was nervous as heck.”

Fighting for foster children’s rights

She was there to fight for increased board rates. At the time, the monthly clothing allowance for a child in foster care was about equal to one-third of the price of a new children’s coat.

She had the text of her speech all written out beforehand. After watching others give testimony before her, she realized that many of the speakers would use slashes in the text as places where they would breathe in order to slow down and be more effective.

She did the same.

“It’s cold outside,” Dondiego told the legislators. “What part of the coat would you like me to buy the child this month? The right sleeve? The left sleeve? The buttons?”

Fighting for foster children's rights

Learning how to fight

Dondiego read her testimony and quickly left. As she was walking out, she heard two voices yelling at her to come back.

They were Assemblywomen Mildred Barry Garvin and Jane Burgio, who would eventually become Secretary of State under Gov. Thomas Kean.

“They said to me where is it in the budget?” Dondiego said. “They showed me, this is the department’s budget, this is where we could put it. And they said you start now for next year. They really taught me.”

It was a lesson Dondiego would use often throughout her life fighting for foster children’s rights.

Her passionate testimony resulted in a 26 percent increase in board rates that year. She attended the appropriations committee meeting where the increase was passed.

“I stood up and asked them if I was allowed to say thank you,” Dondiego said. “They said no, but you’re welcome.”

It was one of the first victories Dondiego and Foster and Adoptive Family Services would have in the name of foster children and their resource parents.

“It felt good,” Dondiego said. “We’re getting things done.”

Continuing the fight

The victory emboldened Dondiego to continue fighting for foster children’s rights.

“Then I never shut up,” Dondiego said. “I got nervier. One year, I looked up the definition of child abuse and read it out loud. Then I looked at them and told them they were all guilty.”

She was a long way from the quiet young girl that the nuns in her Catholic school would often have to plead with to speak up during class, she said.

“If they could see me now,” Dondiego said.

She’d continue to testify in Trenton, always fighting for foster children and resource parents. Many times these sessions would go late into the night while her husband Bernie was home in Middlesex watching their children.

“He was the silent support structure,” Dondiego said. “He’s also a great cook. He’d have supper ready for me when I got back.”

Milestones In Foster Care History The 1970s | NJFPA Holds First Meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church

Milestones in Foster Care History in NJ – The 1970s – Foster parents Sue and Bernie Dondiego and Hattie Talley go from a kitchen table with just the 3 of them to a statewide meeting of concerned foster parents after forming the New Jersey Foster Parent Association (NJFPA), known today as Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS).

Milestones in Foster Care History in NJ – The 1970s – Memories of the NJFPA’s First Meeting at the Shiloh Baptist Church

What I remember most about that first meeting is how many people showed up, because it was only by word of mouth. At that time, we had no other way of getting the word out. We didn’t know who was who really. We knew some people, and we said if you know any foster parents, tell them to come. We told all the people we knew and they all brought people. We always had good meetings in the counties. We had a lot of representation. I would say, out of the twenty counties, we had at least twelve counties. Some were more strong then others. Middlesex was strong because we were from there, Burlington was strong because of Hattie, Camden was strong and Newark was strong – and Jersey City was strong. Some of the foster parents who came to that first meeting are still fostering today! Continue reading