Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Have I mentioned I hate giving speeches???

Hi! My name is Heather Rosenberg and I’ve been a foster parent for a little over five years now and an adoptive parent for going on three. I’ve been on our board for almost four years now, two of them as the vice president and a year and a half as a general board member. While I was trying to come up with witty and important things to tell you all about why I wanted to run again for an office of the association the only thing that kept really coming into my brain was how much I’ve hated elections ever since I was in middle school which is odd considering I eventually went on to do my graduate work in Applied American Politics and Policy and studied elections. You see, there comes a point in the history of every association where growing pains start to develop – and suddenly the status quo is no longer working. The increasing needs of the members of the association begin to take on a life of their own and start to push the direction of the association in directions no one really foresaw in the beginning – this is normal – it’s a real phenomenon in body of research on associations.

We’re at that point in our own association – and this is actually a great point to be at when you look at how things go from here! We’re no longer the tiny association trying to get by with a handful of people showing up at random meetings. Now we have a dedicated group of parents who come each month and a contingent of new families who are added at the graduation of each MAPP class – and they come to us excited about this journey and excited about the idea of making a difference in the lives of the kids who come into our homes. We have some pretty awesome relationships developed with our partner agencies and we’re looked to by other community partners for information about things our families need to support the kids in care. This is an awesome place to be – full of promise and potential. But the next two years are critical for our association in that we have to harness the momentum and energy we have in this room right now to help solidify the association as the go to place for information, resources and help on all the issues our families face. In order to accomplish this, we need to be more organized than we have in the past which means we can’t just fly completely by the seat of our pants anymore.

As an association there are things we should be doing to help our families. We should have meetings – we do this monthly right now and offer two hours of training – but we should also have opportunities to gather for support and rejoicing and fellowship and friendship – we’ve not done a great job of this recently and we need to fix that. We also need to develop avenues of support that transcend physical meetings – it’s great that we come together once a month to meet, but what happens when you get a placement in the middle of the night and you need help meeting the needs of that new child or children? Having a strong network in place of families who can step in to help fulfill immediate needs is a critical function of our kind of association – we should be developing this avenue of support for our families and helping to facilitate strong relationships between families so that there’s never a family who has to say no to placement because they don’t have the right resources available when placement calls.

We should have a strong network of people who can help with individual case work needs for those times when the system breaks down - because we all know this happens on occasion. We’ve seen that happen recently with the Medicaid MMA rollout, or with some changes at the ELC offices, or even when wonky things happen with your individual cases. When those kinds of things happen, there should be people at the association who can help get the system moving again. And the biggest issue of all for me personally, is the association should have a strong voice when dealing with legislation and rule making that governs the practice of child welfare – we should be the first folks the legislature, cabinet, governor and agencies try to tap into when considering changes to how we handle kids in care because we are the people who deal with the end results of everything they tinker with and we’re right here in the capital city with easy access to the people in charge.

The thing all of these things have in common is they all take teamwork and partnerships to happen. No one in this room can make all of this happen alone – we need a commitment to tapping into the strengths of each of our members to build an association that is healthy, strong, vibrant and able to make each of our individual voices so much louder. We have to be able to ask for help from our members and partners and then be able to accept the help offered – otherwise this won’t work. Whoever wins the election tonight for each of these positions needs to be ready with a framework for what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it.

Mine is that I want to get a good grip on our finances – to figure out what money we have, what monies we have coming in and then develop a strategy to increase the grants and donations we have gotten in the past to get some permanent office space where our association can live and where we can run our resources out of. I want to hold our officers accountable for our monies and to know at any point what our financial picture looks like.

I would like to fix our presence on the internet to show that we are an association that supports our families so that anytime a potential foster family or adoptive family looks for information in our area we are the first thing they see – we should be helping drive recruitment and retention of excellent families.

I would like to increase the number of tangible resources we can access for our families by developing a series of in-kind partnerships with various community resources. Need a babysitter? Need a haircut for your kids? Need supplies or clothes or help furnishing a room for a new child? We should have someone we can recommend – and we should even have someone who will help keep the costs as low as possible. There are tons of resources in our community that we simply have not tapped into because we weren’t organized enough to do it. There are tons of people who would help our kids if we just asked them to – I want to ask them to.

I want to set up a group of our families who can help mentor new families as they come into the system – we had this approved with BBCBC two years ago and then it fell through the cracks – we shouldn’t have let them drop this project. I want to help hold the agencies accountable to our membership and to our kids and not let projects that have so much possibility to help our families be dropped again - like the mentor project.

I want to have a committee that actively works on issues in front of the legislature or agencies. Did you know that two years ago the adoptions lobbyists got a small insertion in a bill that now makes it mandatory for the agency to advise families of the ability to do a private adoption rather than go through a TPR? Even if that child has been in s stable placement for two years? Yep. We let that one in because no one was watching. Same thing for the changes to the Rilya Wilson act last year – if we had had a more concerted voice talking to our legislators explaining to them how the changes would impact how we put our kids into childcare, maybe the outcome would have been slightly different.

I want to tap into you guys to find out what things you all need and then figure out a way to make those things happen. Parents night out? We’ve done that and parents and kids loved it. Activities for the kids? Let’s make it happen. Support groups for our kids? I think it would be a great idea. But this can’t be the Heather Rosenberg show – this has to be the every family show. I have to have your commitment that you will use your voices to help drive this association so that we can achieve so much more than what we’ve done so far. This first step of that promise is to use your voice to elect me tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The importance of FAPA

For most people, relationships are important; for foster and adoptive parents this is probably even truer than for the rest of the general population. Joining a group of people who have experienced the same types of situations you are experiencing (or considering) allows you to have a sense of security and trust that you can confide in others who’ve “been there and done that” and likely even have some advice or support to offer in various scenarios. By joining a foster and adoptive association (FAPA), you are able to support and help one another in reaching goals and milestones with our children’s needs and sometimes even with our own needs. Healthy, vibrant FAPAs should sponsor numerous events throughout the year that allow you to connect with your peers and allow the opportunity to fellowship with each other, rejoice and mourn with each other and support each other in this incredible journey we’re all following. We get to share ideas and ask each other for advice. There should be opportunities to volunteer to help each other out or even to become a member of a committee.

Most types of associations conferences at the local, state and even national levels where you can participate and have the opportunity to learn about news and emerging best practices in our chosen “field”, where we can hear about key performers and also meet and brainstorm with others who are trying to further the interests of the children in the system and the families who care for them. In a healthy and vibrant association you may even find a mentor to help you or you may be in a position to become a mentor to someone else. Giving back to other families who come after you can be one of the greatest rewards and benefits from being a part of a FAPA. Participating in forums, chat groups or discussion boards and support groups sponsored or facilitated by the FAPA is also a great way to grow your network of fellow foster and adoptive caregivers (and even sometimes your family). This allows you to use your fellow caregivers as sounding boards and often make some great friends with the same interests as you.

Another important reason to consider membership to a foster and adoptive parent association is to take advantage of their legislative and administrative resources. Healthy, vibrant FAPAs often have committees working on issues that their membership faces (have any of you had issues with Medicaid, ELC or needed help with the particulars of a case). Some associations even have panels of experts or seasoned veterans that you can contact for specific questions or advice on particular issues. Other benefits include information about seminars, training or certification classes that may be helpful for your particular family needs or resources that may help one of your children.

Most healthy, vibrant associations provide an enormous amount of access to resource information such as: case studies, best practices, emerging trends, articles, white papers and books written by experts in our “field”. Healthy, vibrant FAPAs do not take their membership for granted and work diligently to make their membership feel comfortable knowing that someone cares about them and is engaged with the processes involved so intimately in their lives. They also should provide good customer service and respond timely to requests, facilitate partnerships and collaboration and actively engage the involvement of the membership in the activities of the association. It is through the strength in numbers that each individual voice of the membership gains a larger voice with the legislature, the Governor’s office, the organizations that work for us (CHS, Boystown, BBCBC, and every other agency out there), and that we’re each individually and collectively heard.

The Tallahassee Area FAPA needs its members to engage in the process – to be a part of the election cycle, to volunteer for committees and projects and to make their voices heard so that we can speak for the rights of the children and the families who care for them.

In two more weeks (September 23), the TAFAPA will have an election of officers for the Board of Directors. In order to be able to vote in this election, you will have to be a dues-paid member at least five days prior to the election. That means you need to be proactive now to make yours dues payment (it’s only $25 per family for the entire year) if you haven’t already and then be prepared to come to the monthly meeting on Tuesday, September 23 at 6:30 at the ELC of the Big Bend (food and childcare will be provided).

I urge each of us to think about the kinds of support we so desperately need as families charged with caring for such vulnerable kids and to let our voices come together to make a strong, healthy, vibrant FAPA that gives each of us what we need to do what we do even better!