Elvira Northington has been a foster parent in upstate New York for 20 years. These days, she’s the president of the Western New York Foster and Adoptive Families Association, a foster parent support group that meets monthly in Buffalo. Below, she talks about her experiences with foster parenting and becoming an advocate for foster parents.
Getting Started in Foster Parenting
My husband and I are the parents of eight children: three are biological and five were adopted from foster care. Through years of caring for so many children in the community, family members and church members would tell us, “Y’all would be great foster parents” or “Why aren’t you guys foster parents?” We were caring for my mom at the time. When she passed, we decided to take the foster care classes. That was 20 years ago.
At that time, our plan was that we would foster only. We didn’t have plans to adopt and wanted to foster children who were around the ages of the children in the home. Our thoughts were the parents would do what was required of them and the children could go back home. Well, so much for that plan, you see. We’ve adopted five of them.
Forming a Group for Parents
In 2003, the parent group was formed from a resolution session on the challenges facing foster/adoptive families, and we signed on. We became incorporated in 2005. Shortly after, I became secretary, then vice president and now president. We meet monthly to discuss challenges, issues, behaviors, share experiences, tools/techniques, discuss changes in foster care laws, plan trainings and events that promote social environments for the families.
Agency Support for Parents
Some of the challenges for foster parents are asking and getting help when they need it for fear of backlash from their agency or caseworkers. Another challenge for foster parents is navigating the system for services they need for the children and/or themselves, understanding the court system and knowing who to contact for information. Most foster parents don’t know their rights, the foster child’s rights or that they even have rights. There’s such an inconsistency of information from worker to worker and agency to agency.
Agencies can do better by parents with better communication and less intimidation and by disregarding their own inability when it comes to identifying foster parents’ abilities and strengths. Agencies can provide more family support, respite, training for both staff and parents, especially on adoptive realities and standards.
The most common reasons foster parents are not always comfortable seeking help is fear of backlash from their caseworker, department or agency, fears of the child being removed from their home or not receiving future placements. Also, they may have been misled to believe there is no support available to them or they have sought help unsuccessfully in the past so they don’t try again.
Why Do You Foster?
I foster because it’s my calling and purpose in life to nurture, to be a safe place and give them a sense of normalcy during a transitional time in their life and hopefully to give them something that would help them in life going forward.