Foster parenting lessons shared thru Instant Family
- November 29, 2018
A group of colleagues and I went to see the movie, Instant Family. We were all curious to see how the movie would portray foster care. As employees of Lutheran Child and Family Services, one of the largest private child welfare agencies in Illinois, we have a unique perspective on the topic. Our group was diverse not only by demographics, but by our positions within our agency. Following the movie, we gathered to discuss the film and our initial reactions.
For transparency, I need to share that I am a social worker whose career spans more than 40 years. I began as a social worker in child protection in the State of Maryland. I have had a wonderful career and am so grateful and appreciative of all my many blessings. One of the first lessons that I learned as a social worker was that every child deserves and needs a forever family. No exceptions; no child is too old or too “damaged.” None of us are too old to need loving and supportive individuals around us. This point is made clearly in the movie and I applaud the filmmakers for doing so.
The second important lesson of my career, I learned the first time I had to separate children from their birth family. To this day, I remember their names, the street address, and their reactions. Despite the severe neglect they endured, all six of the children (ranging from 2 to 14 years old) cried and clung to their parents and begged me to go away. Nonetheless, they were separated and placed in foster care.
I returned to work and immediately went to see my supervisor. Sobbing, I informed her that I could not do this anymore and needed to find another profession. She gently listened and gave me permission to leave work early. I did so while adamantly stating that I would not be returning. Obviously, I did return and spent hours debriefing this experience with my wonderfully kind supervisor/teacher.
The lesson learned was that most children who are separated from their birth families want the maltreatment to stop, but they don’t want to leave their families/friends/neighbors. This is reflected in the film through the teenage character. She loves her mom and wants her in her life no matter what has happened in the past. Unfortunately like many people, she is unable to verbally express her feelings regarding the situation, so instead she “acts out”.
Third lesson: Foster parents are my heroes and very special. Being a foster parent is not easy and each of you, who are or have ever been a foster parent, know the challenges to parenting a child who has experienced trauma in his/her life. You have taught me that the rewards are enormous. Many of you have shared the joys of being a foster parent. You have shared that there is nothing like giving a child a second chance or working with a birth parent to conquer his/her personal barriers and become a better parent.
Our foster parents come to us with optimism, but grounded in reality. While we team with them to provide support and help, we depend on them and their ability. Compassionate, understanding, strong, and committed to helping others are just a few of their qualities. Foster parents are amazing individuals. They are able to love a child while at the same time, understand how a birth parent might get off track. While the movie reflects them, it does not adequately portray that becoming a foster parent is more than training. It is a process that includes numerous visits to their homes, interviews with them and significant others in their lives, inspection of their homes, medical examinations and references.
Lastly, I encourage everyone to go see the Instant Family movie. As a society, we need to raise awareness about the need for foster parents. It is my hope that more people will consider becoming foster parents. Children and their parents need your help and support! To learn more, contact Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois at 1-800-363-LCFS or visit www.LCFS.org/foster.
Beverly Jones, MSW, ACSW
Vice President – Chief Operating Officer
Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois