Foster Care in Kansas City
HOMEWARD BOUND: FOSTER CARE IN KANSAS CITY
When asked how many kids she has, Tammy Spears lets out a booming laugh. The number can change from month to month, even day to day. This Kansas City mom, who with husband Tim has been a foster parent for 15 years, houses 18 children right now. Only two of them were born to her. But they’re all her kids.
Spears takes in children who have suffered severe neglect and abuse. Many have special needs. “That has been kind of our passion,” she says, “to make sure these kids who have not had the best beginning can finish strong.”
The foster care system is designed to provide children safe, temporary placements when their family home becomes untenable. Once a report of abuse has been made to social services, social workers help the family work through the problems they’re having. Sometimes a judge deems it necessary to remove the child from the home for a time. The goal is to eventually reunite the child with her family. Until that time comes, a loving foster home makes all the difference.
Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association in Independence is one of several agencies in the Metro that provides licensing and training for foster parents. In Missouri, candidates go through background checks, home visits and 27 hours of training. The process is similar in Kansas.
Foster families come in all varieties, including single parent, blended families and mixed race. The most important factor is being willing to give children—even the more challenging ones—a second chance.
“Our kids have been exposed to trauma,” says Lois McDonald, development specialist with MFCAA. But while that trauma may be reflected in the child’s behavior, she adds, “it is not a reflection of the child.” Some will need specialized care due to medical issues or special needs, which requires that the foster parent attend additional training for a Level B designation.
Jennifer Cauveren of Blue Springs, a Level B foster parent since 2003, has three biological children in addition to one or more fosters at any given time. Her family dynamic is constantly changing. “Some are here for only 30 days or even a couple of weeks,” she says. The children who arrive on her doorstep bring few belongings but lots of emotional baggage. One of Cauveren’s toughest jobs is helping them rebuild trust. She stresses accountability—for kids and adults: “It goes a long way towards building trust with these kids for an adult to say, ‘You know what? I was wrong.’”
Janet Richardson of Independence knows this challenge well. She and husband John have been foster parents for 11 years. “I tell them that we’ve had lots of children in our home, and we have been able to keep every one of those children safe,” she says. “And we will love them, take care of them and make sure that they’re not hurt.”
Such assurances are only the beginning of building a relationship with a child who’s suffered neglect or abuse. “The earlier the trauma happens to the child, the more difficult it is to overcome,” Richardson says. “Sometimes it takes years for a child to learn that they really can trust you.” But the work is absolutely critical. A foster parent can provide a turning point in a child’s life like few others can. Children’s relationships with their foster parent, Richardson says, “has everything to do with their ability in future to relate to other people.” Building that relationship is a serious responsibility, Richardson admits, “but it’s also one of the biggest blessings.”
Fortunately, foster parents don’t go it alone. Every child in the foster system comes with a team, which can include a case manager, social worker, doctor, attorney and one or more therapists. Agencies like MCFAA offer additional resources to help foster parents with problems they may encounter. McDonald says it’s common for parents to attend training well beyond the minimum for licensure. And the agency is always ready to help with questions and concerns.
Cauveren admits that foster parents get involved “because they have big hearts,” but the job can be overwhelming. MCFAA stresses that it’s essential to have the ability to “love and let go.” Spears encourages potential foster parents to research area agencies to find the right fit, and take it slow. Talk to other foster parents. “Everything you know about kids gets turned on its ear,” she says; “it’s completely different from raising your birth kids.” But, she says, it’s incredibly rewarding.
One good way to get your feet wet is to attend respite care training. Respite providers take a child for a weekend to give busy foster parents a break. Some people are better suited to short-term stays like this, but others will find a calling to foster full time. As McDonald says, all healing is relational—meaning that it depends completely on the relationships that a child forges. This is true whether a child is ultimately reunited with his family of origin or adopted by someone else. “In helping children, we focus on the family,” says McDonald. “The family is really the answer.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
These agencies can get you started if you’re interested in becoming a foster parent.
Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association (MFCAA)
3210 S. Lee’s Summit Rd.
Independence, MO 64055
KVC Behavioral HealthCare, Inc.
21350 W. 153rd St.
Olathe, KS 66101
Shawnee resident Claire M. Caterer writes frequently on the topics of parenting and special needs children.