The last issue wisely counseled us to create a village to support our motherhood journey. The practice of widening the family circle beyond the biological family is exactly the antidote to what Mother Theresa meant when she said, “The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.” Usually a village or widened family circle will include informal and formal supports, and sometimes these formal supports provide services for children in care.
Often when we think of children in care – children who for whatever reason need to be removed from their homes – what comes to mind are children with traumatic histories, families in crisis, and systems that are overwhelmed and underfunded to meet the true needs of these children and families. But consider this: Albert Einstein proposed that, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.” So if we believe that trauma, crisis, and overwhelmed systems created the problem for our children, then we must look towards healing, balance and stability to start to solve it. It is from our wholeness, the adults who function well, and the families who are thriving that we can offer a viable solution to our vulnerable Maui children.
When we shift our attention from the larger issue and focus on individual children, who could use the care and support from a loving adult, things become more manageable. Research on factors that contribute to improved outcomes for vulnerable youth repeatedly point to the significant and long-term benefits of a stable, caring relationship with a committed adult. These caring adults may be an aunty or uncle, tutu, teacher or coach. Other times that person has a more formal role, like a foster parent.
Foster mamas are people who are able to nurture a child when their family of origin is unable to adequately meet their needs. It is these mothers of the heart that can bring hope and healing to our vulnerable children. But not every child is in foster care due to child abuse or neglect or because their family dysfunction has reached critical mass. Sometimes families who have children with emotional and behavioral challenges decide that the next best step is a community-based intervention called Transitional Family Home services or TFH. This voluntary and short-term placement provides the emotional and physical support for a child to stabilize, as well as provide the biological family an opportunity to recharge and regroup.
TFH foster parents are adults with the heart and home to share with children facing emotional and behavioral challenges a few months (6-8), a week or a weekend at a time. TFH mamas bring children to school, important appointments, and pro-social activities. In return they receive a generous tax-free stipend, continuous agency support, and free training and licensing. TFH families receive training on how to become successful foster parents, and how to work with specific emotional and behavioral challenges.
TFH foster parents sometimes become involved because they know someone who qualifies for services, or they have an empty nest with the wisdom and experience to share with a foster youth. Other times TFH mamas are mothers who know how to embrace the chaos that kids can bring to your life, or an adult who could use a way to connect and give back to her community. They are also compassionate, relatively organized, and have enough flexibility in their schedules to accommodate a new member of the family.
While fostering a child whether through the child welfare system or therapeutically through the Department of Health may seem like a life altering step – with the risk of turning your life upside down, the reward is the opportunity to turn a child’s life right side up. It is the Maui mamas of the heart who can help a child, in turn heal a family, and create healthy communities.