It’s estimated that more than 400,000 children will pass through America’s foster care system this year. That’s hundreds of thousands of opportunities—for both foster parents and those who support fostering—to change a child’s life.
“As a community, it’s important for us to be aware of the children who are in care and to find ways to get involved, even if it is not becoming a foster parent. Everyone has a role to play,” asserts Anika Robinson, of the Gilbert Arizona Gateway Stake.
Robinson would know. She is a foster and adoptive parent to ten children (4 biological, 4 adopted and currently 2 foster children with one open bed) who helped pass legislation known as Jacob’s Law, which empowers troubled foster children to get the state help and resources they need. Robinson served as the Foster Care Community Liaison at AHCCCS [Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System] and is the President of ASA (Advocacy, Support and Assistance for Families and Kids in Need) Now, a foster care charitable organization.
The plight of foster children is becoming more visible. With the addition of Karli, a new Muppet, there are even foster children on Sesame Street.
The show explains the heart of foster care: “Sometimes, even mommies and daddies need some help taking care of their children. Karli’s mommy has been having a hard time, so we are her foster parents, or her for-now-parents. We will keep her safe until her mommy can take care of her again.”
“I love the way Sesame Street has explained the concept of foster parents because it emphasizes that it’s not Karli’s fault that she’s in foster care,” says Robinson. “My only concern with this description is that reunification is not the reality for the majority of children in foster care. According to the most recent Department of Child Safety Semiannual Report, less than half of children who left DCS care were reunified with their primary caregiver. Of the 13,782 children in foster care in Arizona during that time period, 4,235 have a case plan goal of adoption,” she points out.
But for Robinson, these aren’t just numbers—they’re children. “When we hear that there are over 13,000 kids in foster care in Arizona, we don’t visualize a number. We visualize the faces of Heavenly Father’s children,” Robinson says.
Arizona has some basic requirements for would-be foster parents: they must be at least 21 years old; they can be single, married, divorced or widowed; they must own or rent a home or apartment and be legally present in the country; and they must pass an FBI background check and fingerprint clearance. The Arizona Department of Child Safety offers online orientation training that provides information about what foster care entails. Applicants can also call a hotline (1-877 KIDS-NEEDU, or 1-877-543-7633) to chat with a professional about fostering.
The orientation starts with a battery of questions that all prospective foster parents should consider before applying:
- Do I have a strong support system?
- Am I a good communicator?
- Do I have a positive outlook, even when facing challenging circumstances?
- Do I have the skills needed to successfully manage the behaviors of challenging children?
- Do I know how to help children heal from their losses? Can I manage my own loss?
- Can you say goodbye?
- Am I a team player?
A licensing agency can assist potential foster parents in their journey by walking them through the requisite paperwork and home visits, as well as managing long-term goals.
“Our foster care agency, Arizona Children’s Association, knew that our goal was to adopt a child through foster care and they placed children in our home with cases that looked promising,” says Arizona foster parent Rachael Thompson of the Peoria North Stake. Her family was able to foster children whom they eventually adopted.
Of course, fostering is a huge decision. “When considering being a foster parent it is okay to look at your current family and situation and be realistic,” says Monica Peterson of the Brigham City Utah Box Elder Stake, who adopted fostered children. “Know your limits and stick to them and allow yourself the grace to recognize that it is okay!”
If fostering is not an option at present, supporting foster children and their families is still within anyone’s reach through donations of time, money or talent to local organizations. Arizona’s ASA Now is dedicated to helping foster children and the families who support them “by restoring hope and empowering them to better serve these children in need.” Over the past three years they have impacted the lives of over 2,000 families and close to 5,000 children.
Founded by three “true mamas” and Latter-day Saints, Anika Robinson, Susan Woodruff and Angela Teachout, all foster and adoptive parents themselves, the organization offers a range of services and support for foster families and children. ASA Now’s training is OLR [Office of Licensing and Regulation]-approved and presents education that spans from community awareness and speaking engagements to resources for professionals and caregivers. Weekly vlogs and links help families navigate the complex web of the behavioral health world and the DCS—and how to best utilize Jacob’s Law.
Jacob’s Law passed in 2016 thanks to the unyielding efforts of Robinson, Woodruff and Teachout.
“When the three of us set out to pass the 24 laws now known as Jacob’s Law, we relied on God to open doors for us and He did throughout the whole process. Once we successfully passed the laws, we felt called by God to do more for these children and for the families who open their homes and hearts to them,” says Robinson.
Out of this desire, the idea for Mesa’s new Jacob’s Mission Community Center was born.
“Jacob’s Mission Community Center will be the first of its kind in Arizona,” Robinson says. “Within its walls, education and supports will be provided through a trauma-informed lens.”
Programs offered for foster families will include tutoring, life skills classes, therapy, family programs, respite care, support groups and more.
“We will empower families and caregivers to become strong and effective advocates by providing education on successfully navigating the foster care, medical and behavioral health systems,” Robinson says.
And ASA Now’s advocacy doesn’t stop when foster children mature: “Our Transition to Adulthood program will help at-risk youth graduate from high school, assist them in furthering their education through secondary education or vocational training, support them in developing critical life skills and will continue to offer them food, basic necessities and clothing as needed. The services we provide will assist teens in developing skills and competencies necessary for a successful transition to adulthood.”
Special places like Jacob’s Mission Community Center depend on the support of a strong community.
“All services provided by ASA Now are made possible by the support of caring volunteers and donors from within our community,” Robinson says. “The more support we receive from our community, the more lives we are able to impact.”
“Long ago, we heard a quote by Dr. Seuss: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’ Which is why we’re here today: to make things better,” Robinson states.
ASA Now is actively looking for volunteers to help with monthly events; it also offers daily opportunities to serve at Jacob’s Mission Community Center in Mesa.
Visit Jacob’s Mission Community Center at 7830 E University Drive in Mesa, or call (623) 428-1592. ASA Now is online at http://www.asanow.org/