What started off as a partnership between three foster parents grew into a statewide group of foster care advocates.
One of the reasons Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) has survived and thrived for forty years is our unique perspective as an organization. Some foster care organizations tend to be in conflict with child welfare agencies. FAFS strives to work with our state’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P, formerly DYFS) as foster care advocates to make sure kids in foster care get what they need – including capable and caring foster parents.
When we first started FAFS, we were just three foster parents around a kitchen table. It didn’t take long though until the meetings were statewide! We used to use DCP&P’s regional offices; I remember the one on Alexander Road in Princeton. All our Presidents came.
Back then, DCP&P had what they called home finders. Those were the reps from DCP&P. We met every month to tell them what the children needed, but we also talked about what DCP&P needed to make that happen. Sometimes they knew the need was there, but the state wasn’t giving them the resources to fill that need.
I remember there was a point when they didn’t have child seats in the caseworkers’ cars even though it was mandatory! The caseworkers had to transport the children safely, but money wasn’t budgeted for that. So, we’d tell DCP&P move it over to the legislature and put it in your budget and we’ll support it. And we did.
There were things we did back and forth for one another – mutual advocates for children in foster care – that’s a good description of it.
It was important, like it still is today, to make legislators aware of the needs of foster children. The people who know what the children need best have to be the ones to speak up; foster parents are the best foster care advocates going – because we have to provide for the kids. They need foster parents who can really help them, so there’s a need to advocate for ourselves as well – for better training, for better support, and such. All of those things help foster parents take better care of the kids, and to foster longer.
Establishing the partnership with DCP&P as advocates instead of adversaries was the best thing we could have done. Because from there, then everything flowed. From free foster parent support to free foster parent training to the New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program, establishing FAFS as foster care advocates working with – not against – DCP&P to make things better set the stage for forty years of improvements for foster families in New Jersey.