Milestones in Foster Care History in NJ – The 1970s – Foster parents Sue and Bernie Dondiego and Hattie Talley sit at a kitchen table and discuss issues facing foster parents and how to work together to bring about positive change for the children in their homes. They create 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 – Meeting with Hattie Talley and the Formation of the New Jersey Foster Parent Association
When we met at that kitchen table back in the early ’70’s, it was just a few foster parents talking. Hattie Talley, who went on to form the organization with us, Carol, and ourselves. We were just telling war stories like we always did. But then Hattie said, “This is how it’s always going to be if we don’t help one another. We have to support one another and reach out to one another.” And that’s how it started that day.
At that time, the biggest issues we, as a foster parents, were faced with was the support. Nobody really understood what it was like to take abused and neglected children into your home, the troubles the kids have and the needs they have, and the challenges and rewards of helping them, except another foster parent. Back then, a lot of people’s relatives didn’t understand why they (foster parents) would do something like that, why you would take this child into your home. Schools didn’t understand. It was like something different, that not many people “got”.
We all realized that no one was going to come along and say, “Oh gee, aren’t you wonderful! You’re doing a good job.” We knew that if we didn’t get out there and help one another, nobody was just going to help us because we were the good guys.
Also some of our concerns back then, just as they still are for foster parents today quite often, was with the communication between the caseworker and the foster parent and the kind of rapport that came with that. Prior to us forming the organization, the caseworker was the law, so to speak. They were the bosses; they could tell you what to do. You weren’t free to think. There was absolutely no partnership between the caseworkers and the foster parents in New Jersey prior to our forming the organization.
Milestones in Foster Care History in NJ – The 1970s – New Jersey Foster Parent Association (now known as Foster and Adoptive Family Services) is Incorporated
Just like Hattie said, we realized that unless we organized, we weren’t going to get anywhere. So we officially became the New Jersey Foster Parent Association, which is now called Foster and Adoptive Family Services. We incorporated in 1974, and then we started the initial county groups that consisted of, if I remember correctly, the Newark area (Essex and Suburban Essex) , Middlesex County, Burlington County (because that’s where Hattie was from), Camden County and Hudson County; they were the core group. Then they thought maybe we should have a state group that would direct all the counties. In other words, they were looking for a parent, with the counties being the children. And so, from that point we then had the heads of the county offices serve on the board, and the board made up the state organization. We chose a President of the state organization from the county; Hattie Talley was our first. There was a lot of participation, and at that time, there were many more foster children and foster parents.
So we began exchanging information between us as foster parents. When we got together, we would discuss things like, “How did the caseworker deal with your board rate?” or “How did the caseworker deal with the child’s clothing situation – did they send you the right clothes, and did they send them on time?” That helped us gauge what was being done, what rules were being followed, etc. It helped us understand what children in foster care in New Jersey needed to be properly taken care of, and that information helped us form a plan to get it for them.
Even though the organization was called the New Jersey Foster Parent Association, everything we fought for and did was for the benefit of children in foster care. We wanted everyone involved, from the foster parent, to the caseworker, to our families and friends, to the child’s school – everyone – to look out for the best interest of the child.