It’s election season again, which means a never-ending stream of political ads on TV. I can’t wait for that part to be over. However, who we choose as our leaders, especially our Governors, can significantly impact the state’s child welfare system. There are 11 states with Governor seats up for election this year. Do you know where your Governor stands or what they have done to help kids in foster care?
In the 11 years, I have been recruiting and training foster parents and working with local child protective services offices. I have seen firsthand the influential role a Governor can have on kids and parents’ in the foster care system.
Generally, Governors Do not Understand Foster Care
Many Governors enter politics from being lawyers or business owners. But they typically don’t have much personal experience in the foster care system’s workings. You can’t blame them. How much did you know about foster care before you engaged “the system”? The good news is there are Governors with experience in foster care and adoption. They bring unique perspectives to their role. Sadly, most governors never learn about the system they oversee; they create budgets and never understand the influence they have to improve children and foster parents’ lives in their state.
Governors Have the Power to Make Systematic Changes
With the Governors’ “bully pulpit” and executive authority, they can bring about changes that address critical issues. Issues like the lack of enough foster parents to serve the kids in state care. Or adjusting the budget to hire and retain enough social workers to keep their caseloads workable. And license new parents, provide mental health services for foster children. But perhaps one of the most significant influences a Governor can make is by creating partnerships with NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Collaborating with them for the recruitment of, training, and ongoing care of licensed foster parents. By doing so, the resources available to foster parents increase. Also, the amount of work required by state social workers decreases. All at little to no additional cost to the state.
Governor Bill Owens and Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton of Colorado (1999 to 2007) were instrumental in creating partnerships with the faith community about foster care. Their work passed legislative and regulatory fixes allowing nonprofit organizations like Project 1.27 (a bridge ministry) to recruit and provide the state-required training to potential foster and adoptive parents. Thereby freeing up social workers’ time and providing a needed service at no taxpayer expense. The Owen’s administration valued the collaborative work of state and county departments of human services working with churches and faith-based organizations. Ones like Focus on the Family to serve the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. It’s children.
In Mississippi, former Governor Phil Bryant found himself at the end of a road with a tin can other Governors had kicked for years. Under court order in the ‘Olivia Y’ case, the state was under pressure to raise its performance of the child welfare system. Bryant was forced to tackle the problem. He hired new leadership for Child Protective Services (CPS). Increased the state’s budget for child protective services. And fostered working relationships with the churches in the state. Bryant also made personal invitations for interested parents to attend recruitment events started by Michael Memorial Baptist Church. These events called, Rescue 100, were facilitated with the help of 200 Million Flowers (a bridge ministry). Governor Bryant turned out to be an effective recruiter for new foster parents. He did this by enlisting the help of nonprofits and increasing the number of social workers in the state.
South Dakota’s current Governor, Kristi Noem, is requesting a budget with more money to help with the resources and training needed to equip foster families to accept children into their homes. Noem’s biological parents were also foster parents, and Noem understood what it meant to have a foster sibling.
Forging New Relationships
When a Governor is willing to promote partnerships with community stakeholders, amazing things can happen. Former Governor Matt Bevins of Kentucky, an adoptive parent himself, had a goal of transforming the foster care system in Kentucky. The state partnered with the Orphan Care Alliance (OCA) for foster parent orientation meetings. And introduced them to the ongoing support system OCA provides around the state. He also developed relationships with America’s Kids Belong for the recruitment of foster children waiting to be adopted. As well as Focus on the Family’s Wait No More campaign to help the recruitment of new foster and adoptive parents.
In Tennessee, former Governor Bill Haslam and his wife Crissy advanced the cause of foster care in their state by helping to launch TNFosters. A statewide campaign joining the government, faith, nonprofit, business, and creative communities around the state’s foster care system.
Guardians of Vulnerable Children
Imagine your state with enough foster parents. A sufficient amount that social workers can decide between an array of foster parents. Enough so they can make a “match” that fits the needs of the parents and the child. Think of what it would look like if there are enough non-stressed caseworkers with the margin to quickly answer foster parents’ questions and recommend available services. Imagine a state where people in the faith community are mobilized to meet the needs of foster youth, social workers, and foster parents (see Care Portal).
“Bridge” ministries and faith communities can make significant contributions to mental health, recruitment, training, and support of foster parents without the government’s collaboration. I know because I have witnessed the limitless creativity from people wanting to help foster kids and parents. And there is abounding energy to make things happen. My point is this, let’s elect leaders with a willingness to do something to come alongside the vulnerable children, but never to just throw up our hands and say, ‘it will never happen’ and stop doing the good work of helping foster kids. But when Governors embrace the idea that they are the guardians of vulnerable children in their state, it can lead to even greater solutions to help children in foster care, social workers, and foster parents.