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A Seat at the Table

By Dr. Sharen Ford
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seat at the table
Children entering a new foster care placement need time to fit into your home.

Sitting down for family dinner in my parent’s home brings back fond memories.  It meant something to have a seat at the table.

Our family ritual allowed my parents to keep up with how each child’s day went and for the children to hear any news our parents wanted to share.  As we went around the table, each of us could share as little or as much as we wanted. 

Being at the table was a safe place.  I had a voice.  I learned to speak up and to listen to others.  It meant a lot to me to know that they heard me.

Our family’s ritual didn’t change when others visited our family home. I don’t remember how my parents communicated that we ate family dinner together.  Everyone was welcome at our family’s table.

Participating in getting the table together was a family affair. The older siblings took turns setting the table and carrying food from the kitchen.  The younger sibs helped with the napkins and placing them at each seat.

Whenever we had visitors, we added chairs, and everyone had the opportunity to participate in dinner conversations.

Carrying On The Tradition

Many years later, when my daughter asked if a classmate could stay with us because her household situation wasn’t safe.  We sat at the table to discuss this teenage girl temporarily joining our family. My daughter invited Alicia to dinner so we could discuss things. Before agreeing to her stay, Alicia’s mother was contacted and consented to her living in our home.  We made room for Alicia at the table.  She would stay with us almost until the end of her senior year before moving out right before graduation. 

Being invited to have a seat at the table has meaning.  You are cared for and valued.  We are making room for you in our lives.  Being at the table means we are going to help keep you safe. You will have a voice and learn about others.  There’s sharing and caring at the table.  It’s a place where you get to try new things.

It takes time to learn to set the table, just like it takes time and preparation to learn a family’s rituals.    

Foster Care

Children entering a new foster care placement need time to fit into your home. Ideally, a worker would contact your home and share information about a youth needing placement. The worker would use the home study/home assessment to have a good idea about your family’s strengths, skills, and family dynamics

The home study helps agency staff get to know you and your family better.  It also gives the agency staff a chance to build a relationship with you and teach the family about being a foster family.

Some agencies have licensing workers and placement workers and ongoing caseworkers.  Each worker plays a unique role in the process.  The licensing worker is responsible for processing all the paperwork submitted by the family in order to become a foster home. Once they receive certification for placement, one of their team will maintain monthly contact with the foster family.

A placement worker will most likely be the person who brings the child to the foster home for their initial placement.  Depending on how the agency is structured, this worker will have monthly visits with the foster family while a youth is placed there.  An ongoing caseworker may be assigned to the case to work with the family to achieve permanency for the youth.  They take over the case from the initial caseworker.

Preparation

Transitioning a youth to your home takes preparation. Foster parent training classes are an opportunity to learn about transitioning a child into your home and sharing your family’s rituals. The training classes will prepare you to have a new child to sit at your table.

Some foster families have prepared “Getting to Know Us” books.  It’s a family album that contains pictures of their family members with their names, including family pets.  It’s hard to remember the names of people in a stressful situation.  Contact information: the home address and phone number (if appropriate), the name and address of their school, if they have a school change, the name of their caseworker and his/her phone number.  It’s great when the album has additional space to add pictures and other information, so the youth don’t feel as though the it is complete. 

A Seat At The Table

It’s hard being the new kid.  How will you help your newest member of the family transition well into your home?  Helping them to know that they have a seat at the table is a good start. 

After a week of being at our home, we asked Alicia to help set the dinner table. She went to the table and removed the decorative items.  She went to the drawers and pulled the place mats, setting one before each chair.  Next, she put the dishes, the napkins, and silverware. Lastly, she placed the glasses.  Although new to the home, she was becoming acquainted with the rhythm. She had a seat at the table. Her being there had meaning. 

There is a season for being at the table.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…   “Ecclesiastes 3:1

If you’re thinking about whether you should move forward to become a foster parent, prayerfully consider who needs a seat at your table.

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About the Author

Dr. Sharen Ford

Sharen Ford is a nationally-recognized child welfare consultant and the retired Manager for Permanency Services for the Colorado Department of Human Services in the Division of Child Welfare Services. She retired with 30 years of comprehensive work history with the department. She oversaw six programmatic areas including the Foster Care and Adoption Program and supervised a team of professional staff. …

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