We encourage you to prayerfully ask God to guide your learning and involvement with the foster care crisis in general, with birth families, and/or with Patty's Hope and it's mission.
"Focus on giants - you stumble
Focus on God - giants tumble"
There is a reason this quote is here. It is meant to be an encouragement because as you learn more about the hardships people face, the national foster care crisis, the effects of trauma and abuse it is easy to be overwhelmed and disheartened to the point of inaction.
There are any number of ways to learn more about, but these are our suggestions and this will depend of your level of interest and commitment.
1. We have found the ReMoved short films to be very helpful.
2. We encourage people to go to a Department of Social Services foster care orientation.
3. Sit down with foster parents within your community.
4. Attend a Richmond foster care network meeting through For Richmond.
When we began Patty's Hope we conducted a needs assessment for biological mothers of children in foster care within the greater Richmond area. Through research, personal interviews, and local statistics, we identified four primary program components to focus our efforts: Safe Housing, Trauma Recovery, Life Skills, and Healthy Relationships.
These four components are held together by the backbone of our services; case management. Each client will have a minimum of a once per week case management session in which they will discuss upcoming appointments and transportation, needs and how to address them, and progress towards their Individualized Service Plan goals.
Safe Housing: The Issue
Research shows that in the Richmond region, finding and keeping stable, affordable housing is a major struggle for low-income individuals and families and that housing issues are a cause for the removal of children into foster care. A study in 2015 by the Partnership for Housing Affordability found approximately 35% of families in the Richmond region are cost burdened or spending more than 30%1. of their monthly income for housing. The cost burden of housing is an issue across all income levels, but it clearly presents more problems for families living below the poverty level. The study also highlights research that has proven the importance of stable housing on the wellbeing of an individual or family.
In January of 2018, approximately 16.28% of the children in foster care in the state of Virginia were removed from their families primarily due to insufficient housing (VDSS, 2018a)2. We were not able to gather specific data regarding the number of women whose children are in foster care who have significant housing needs. Four professionals in the field working with Patty’s Hope’ target population were asked to estimate this number and most felt it was around 40%. This percentage represents women who may be living in their car, in a temporary shelter, or “couch surfing.” Couch surfing is a term used for people who move from place to place using friends and family for temporary housing.
Trauma Recovery: The Issue
More research is being conducted on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) than ever before. We are learning how one’s traumatic experiences lead to an increased risk of many negative health implications, mental health concerns, and adoption of health-risk behaviors (Felitti et al, 1998)3.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) produced a fact sheet for child welfare workers highlighting how a history of trauma may be impacting the biological parents of child in the child welfare system. Parents ability to make sound judgements may be compromised. They may also have difficulty forming and maintaining positive relationships, or even identifying which relationships are positive and helpful versus those that are harmful. A history of trauma may also affect a parent’s coping strategies, emotional regulation, and decision-making ability (NCTSN, 2011)4.
Not all DSS clients get referred for group or individual counseling, but they are referred to parenting groups. One professional from Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) explained that the SCAN parenting group, in which most Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS) clients are referred for parenting, is actually a therapeutic group not a parenting class. They spend three of the twenty weeks on trauma and encourage clients to explore how their own trauma affects their parenting. This professional believes 90% of the participants in their groups need individual counseling but can’t access it due to a lack of availability, lack of insurance, or other barriers.
Life Skills: The Issue
The target demographic of Patty’s Hope reportedly struggles with life skills, such as budgeting, navigating finding and keeping a job, and maintaining a residence. These are likely major barriers preventing them from living healthy, stable lives and being a positive influence in their children’s lives. Many of the professionals we spoke with felt this is a major need for women who fall outside of transitional living programs designed for 18-21 year olds.
Healthy Community: The Issue
Research shows a correlation between positive, healthy relationships and engagement with the community as factors that reduce child maltreatment and parental stress (CDC, 2014). Research by Iowa’s Department of Human Services found that families with one case of founded abuse were more likely to experience repeat maltreatment if they had a lack of social support (Children and Family Services, 2009).
Safe Housing: The Solution
We believe safe housing is foundational to be able to begin the work of healing and transformation. There is little ability to work on healthy relationships if you must live with an abuser. Likewise, it is difficult to find a job if you have no address. No one can work on resolving past trauma when they are still in the middle of crisis. Patty’s Hope future plans are to utilize a Host Family Program to provide women with safe housing. We recruit, train, and assess Christian families and individuals willing to include one of our clients in their family. They provide a room, but also the support and modeling of healthy relationship. We hope to once again be able to offer a residential home for several women to live together prior to entering a host home. As women progress through our program, we will assist them in working towards permanent, independent living prior to graduating from the Patty’s Hope program.
Trauma Recovery: The Solution
Because we have learned much about the impact of unresolved trauma on one’s health and wellbeing, we feel it is important for each client to work towards recognizing past trauma, understanding their triggers, and working towards healthy resolution. We also recognize that this may be a long, hard path which much be tread carefully. Every client will be engaged in individual trauma therapy on a weekly basis. We have partnered with Fig Tree Therapy to provide these services to our clients. Fig Tree Therapy is a Christian counseling practice that engages in current, evidence-based treatment of trauma. We are excited about the balance of Biblical truth and scientific knowledge the Practioners of Fig Tree hold.
Life Skills: The Solution
Patty’s Hope helps clients develop life skills through their host family placement, case management, referral to job skills programs, mentors and in-house classes. We use volunteers to lead classes on a variety of subjects such as calendar management, budgeting, healthy eating, planning and cooking a meal, etc. Many of these skills are modeled through host families and case management, but individualized needs can be accommodated through volunteer mentors and in-house classes.
For job skills, Patty’s Hope is partnering with the Jobs For Life program. Jobs for Life is a Christian organization seeking to connect mentors, pastors, businesses, and future workers. They provide training classes for participants to gain skills, understand their gifts and abilities, and connect with job opportunities.
Healthy Community: The Solution
Not only does research show the importance of healthy community but we believe God created us to live in community with one another. Healthy relationships help us grow and thrive. Patty’s Hope uses host families, mentors, and volunteers to create positive community for clients. Through these relationships, clients will learn healthy boundaries, conflict resolution, and positive communication skills. We want to share God’s grace and forgiveness when mistakes are made and move towards healthy solutions for the future. It is our hope that clients will form lasting relationships that will continue long past the client’s participation in our program.
Partnership for Housing Affordability. (2015). Housing the Richmond Region: Needs, Impediments, and Strategies. Richmond, VA: Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech and the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at VCU. Retrieved from http://partnershipaffordablehousing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Full-Report.pdf
2. Virginia Department of Social Services. (2018a). Foster care related reports, Monthly Snapshot 1/1/2018. Richmond, VA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.dss.virginia.gov/files/about/reports/children/foster_care/2018/monthly_snapshot/Snapshot_Children_In_Foster_Care_-_2018_01_01.pdf
3. Felitti, V., Anda, R., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D., Spitz, A., Edwards, V.,... and Marks, J. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.
4.The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2011). Birth Parents with Trauma Histories and the Child Welfare System; A guide for Mental Health Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/birth_parents_trauma_history_fact_sheet_final.pdf