Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Somewhere they Belong" - An interview with CPO Sandra Gasca about Foster Care and Child Placements

For those of you who have been longtime readers of this blog you may remember that the Wichita Branch NAACP agreed to work with Youthville in an effort to increase the number of available African American Foster homes and parents.

This is in light of the data that shows that of the African American children from Sedgwick County awaiting foster placement, about 47% are sent outside of the county to foster homes in more rural areas of Kansas, most often not of the same cultural background. And of the approximately 147 Bi-Racial children from Sedgwick County, 31% are sent outside of the county to foster homes in more rural areas of Kansas, most often not of the same cultural background.

In this effort, we've had the pleasure and opportunity to meet and work with a truly tireless advocate for Children; Ms. Sandra Gasca from Youthville Child services. I asked Ms. Gasca if she would consent to a short interview so that we could share her insights with you, our readers. Our discussion follows:

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KM: Sandra, what is your official title?
SG: Chief Program Officer

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KM: Is Youthville a State agency like SRS?
SG: Youthville is a private, nonprofit agency that serves as a contractor to SRS for services that include foster care, case management, and residential (group homes) to the State. Children are referred to Youthville by SRS when they are removed due to abuse and/or neglect for foster care services. Any child removed from their home and placed into foster care comes to Youthville.

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KM: How many children are served by Youthville?
SG: Youthville serves over 1200 children who were removed from their home in Sedgwick County and brought into the foster care system.

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KM: What are the racial demographics of the children you serve?
SG: The racial demographics are as follows:

51% - Caucasian
27% - African American
11% - Hispanic
9% - Bi-racial
2% - Other (Native American, Asian American)

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KM: Are children actually placed in Youthville's custody? and how long do children typically remain in the foster care system?
SG: The children remain in SRS’s custody and our role is to work towards reunifying the family from which they were removed from or finding another permanent living situation. This could be in the form of living with a relative, preparing the children for a new adoptive family, or with older youth helping them establish their own living situation as they move into adulthood. The average length of stay for a child in foster care from Sedgwick County is 18 months.

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KM: You've spoken in the past about the need for more minority (particularly African American and Latino) families to volunteer to become foster care families. Why do you think this is important?
SG: National research shows that children of color are less likely to be reunified with their birth families.


Hill, R. (2001). The role of race in parental reunification. Paper presented at
the Race Matters Forum meeting, Jan. 9-10, Chicago, IL. Available online on May
15, 2006, from Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Department of
Human and Health Services, as Chapter 6 in Assessing the Context of Permanency
and Reunification in the Foster Care System at
http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/fostercare-reunif01/.

The single most important need that a child has upon entering the foster care system is to be with a family as opposed to a shelter or group home. If you think back to the support all of us have had in one way or another, we have always had a family in some form or fashion. The focus that Youthville has is on placing children with families who are a good match—emotionally, culturally, physically, spiritually, and socially.

The concern that I have is that there is a huge disparity between the number of children of color coming into the foster care system in relation to the number of homes of color that we have to serve these kids. As I said earlier, unfortunately many of these children will likely not return to their birth families, so finding them a home that they feel comfortable in, and can identify with, is a top priority for their personal and emotional growth. I am particularly concerned about Hispanic children who may be monolingual and the fact that we only have 3 bilingual homes in the county to serve these children. Often times, we rely on the support of a non-Spanish speaking family with good intentions and a translator to serve these children, but the language barrier is so significant that these children end up being labeled as “difficult” or “oppositional” when in reality, they are not understood linguistically.

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KM: Could you comment on the role of culture in child placements and why that is so important?
SG: Culture is the foundation of identity that provides a blueprint for everyday living. Identity is essential in developing a positive self-image, self-concept and effective life skills. Foster family dynamics and structure are influenced by culture which impacts parenting style, norms, and traditions. When children enter the foster care system, the foster family becomes the voice for the child and is their primary advocate. This family must be able to understand the child within their life experience and cultural context in order to serve them best and help them to grow personally and emotionally. Much has been written about the hazards of ignoring cultural factors in diagnosing and treating children of color in the foster care system, along with basic needs of skin and hair care issues not being adequately addressed. Children in foster care are entitled to a home that is culturally sensitive, responsive, and can comprehensively meet their needs.

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KM: How does a family become a foster care family?
SG: Foster parents must be 21 or older, single or married, in good general physical and mental health, financially able to provide for their own families, own or rent a house or an apartment that can meet licensing requirements, and be able to pass background checks. There is training required for prospective foster parents to become licensed foster parents. This free training, called Partnering for Safety and Permanence- Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (or PS-MAPP), is 10 weeks long. Youthville offers PS-MAPP classes on a regular basis in a variety of locations. The goal of the training is to help you decide if being a foster parent (fostering or adopting) is for them. It also helps prepare families for their role if they decide it's right for their family. Once a family has completed PS-MAPP, or in some cases during the training, Youthville staff will assist with the process to become licensed as a foster parent.

For families who only want to adopt, they are required to do all of the above mentioned but do not have to go through the licensing process.

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KM: Can you serve as a foster parent if you are single or divorced?
SG: Yes.

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KM: What else would you like people to know about the foster care system and the need for volunteers?
SG: The number one thing people should know about the foster care system is that these children are just like you and I. The misperception that these kids are bad kids drives people away from them, and they turn their backs. We need our communities to realize that these are just kids. Kids that haven’t been fortunate enough to grow up in the perfect family environment, and have suffered various levels of trauma in their short life, but with the help of a caring individual or family, these kids can get their lives handed back to them. It is a precious gift that lasts a lifetime. The one thing these kids need is someone that will be there for them. In the good times and the bad, it is someone they can depend on to keep them safe, show them what a family is all about. Many of the kids haven’t had this, or have been let down in the past, and have no one there to guide them, look after them, love them, ensure their education, help build their future, or help them navigate their way through this world.

There are over 400 children in Youthville’s care that are awaiting adoption. These kids have had their parental rights severed, and are looking to be a part of someone’s family permanently. That is exactly what they need, somewhere they belong, and somewhere they can come home to at night and be loved. For some of them, it will be the first time they can tell someone they are going home to their family.

Other than foster homes or adoptive homes, we are always looking for mentors. These are people that agree to be there for a child that is aging out of the system without a family, that can help them avoid some of the struggles life can throw at you. Someone that they can call when they are down, and someone that they can count on to help them pick up the pieces of their life and move forward.

I really want people to know there are always ways for them get involved and help these kids. One of the biggest needs for those that can not physically have a child in their home, or can’t volunteer, or mentor, is simply spreading the word to others that helps change the perception of “foster” kids. If you hear someone talking negatively about what they heard about foster kids, step in have something positive to say. Just help be a voice for all of these children that don’t have one.

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KM: Thank you again Sandra for all you do...

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If you or someone you know in the Sedgwick County area may be interested in becoming a foster parent, please contact Libby Smith at 800.593.1950, ext 8319

or if you'd simply like more information about Youthville or child placements, you can call 800.593.1950, ext 194






2 Click HERE to POST or READ the latest comments!!!:

Anonymous,  November 30, 2007 at 12:13 AM  

Very well put Ms. Gasca.

Anonymous,  March 29, 2009 at 7:34 PM  

my name is amanda newsome. my kids were takin from me 2yrs ago while i was living in hays kansas. i went through hell tryiing to get them back. and as soon as it would get close to intergration they would change our social workers and start all over again. during this time i found out that my husband at the time was doing drugs. which now makes sense on why we never had money (which is the main reason my kids are gone) i left him. although i had no family or support in kansas so i had to make the decision to better my life and my kids life i had to move to seattle. the city of hays said that even though i moved i could still get them back. so once i moved they pretty much wouldnt talk to me. and they made my lawyer at that time tell me that i had no chance cuz i moved and that i have to sign my rights or they were going to take them from me. so i signed them cuz i had no choice. the state up here said that the papers that they sent me werent professional and shouldnt be legal. between all of the lies and betrayel from the state of kansas and city of hays im looking for the public and for a good lawyer to help me with this and try to help me get my kids back. if you have any ideas, numbers, or know anyone please email me nightpanda@yahoo.com

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