TEWKSBURY — On Tuesday, Jan. 28, Brenda M. Fitzgerald, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, held a meeting at the Tewksbury Public Library for potential foster care parents. The meeting was provided to inform and educate potential foster parents of how the foster care application works, what comes with being a foster care parent or family, and how foster care can change the life of a child for the better.
Each family in attendance received a folder, complete with additional information about the importance of foster care and an application packet for foster care/adoption.
When asked how she decided to pursue a career as a Family Resource Recruiter and advocate for foster care, Fitzgerald elaborated on how she used to be a kinship social worker, and she saw situations where some foster children could not be placed in homes.
Over the three years that she has spent as a Family Resource Recruiter, Fitzgerald has seen a multitude of positive changes made to help advance the foster care system, such as money the Massachusetts government has put aside for the program, and the hiring of 15 recruiters (such as herself) to help educate and inform communities of the importance of foster care, as well as 28 area officers.
Fitzgerald also gets involved directly in the foster care process. She helps educate, and her department receives about 75,000 calls a year regarding safety. She partners with potential parents and performs home inspections to ensure that the environment will be a safe one for their potential foster child.
Fitzgerald also helps conduct Massachusetts Approach to Partnering in Parenting (MAPP) training programs, which foster parents must complete 30 hours of in order to house a child.
Fitzgerald justifies the need for the extensive training and house inspections when she elaborates that “every foster child has gone through some sort of trauma, and we need to make sure that the homes we put them in are safe and will be a beneficial environment for both the child and the foster family.”
She shared also that, in the right environment, kids who have been in foster care and have been placed in homes have blossomed.
When asked what the most important thing to consider when deciding to apply to be a foster parent or family is, Fitzgerald emphasized the importance of this being “a family decision. Everyone in the family needs to be 100 percent on board.”
The most important piece of advice she could give to potential foster families is “to be open to the process, be honest about the family and their needs, to work with the Department of Children and Families, and, most importantly, to listen to each other.”
The hardest part about foster care, in Fitzgerald’s eyes, is the trauma.
As emphasized earlier: “every foster child has gone through some sort of trauma,” and parents sometimes have a hard time mentally preparing for that emotional impact.
They receive help for that preparation through the MAPP training. Another difficult part of the foster care system is that parents and families need to understand that this program is for the needs of the child, as the goal, most of the time, is reunification with their birth family.
While sometimes these foster care cases end in adoption of the child, most of these children return to their original homes, and that can be hard for the parents, as they have grown to love and care for the child they took in.
Fitzgerald also spared some advice for those who are looking to follow in her footsteps, and become advocates for foster care.
She said that foster care “is a wonderful field, a field where you’re making an impact for a child in their time of greatest need and their entire life. A small time in a foster home can make a big difference.”
Some statistics warn of foster care and its connection to the criminal justice system. For example, the website for the Juvenile Law Center says that “90 percent of youth with 5+ foster placements will enter the criminal justice system” or “Youth placed in group homes are 2.5 times more likely to get involved in the Justice system”.
Fitzgerald responds to statistics like these with a further emphasis on the need for education in the field of foster care. Each area office has individual needs, and, without the proper support, foster care children do run a risk of entering the criminal justice system.
In recent months, the Trump administration proposed a rule that could remove protections for LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in programs funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, including foster care. Additionally, there have been stories and court cases where LGBTQ+ individuals and couples have been barred from adopting or becoming foster parents.
Fitzgerald explained that LGBTQ+ homes are a priority, and the Department of Children and Families needs all types of homes for all types of kids. Recruiters, such as Fitzgerald, make themselves available at different functions, fairs, farmers markets, and scheduled meetings/talks to make themselves and their program known to a variety of different people.
When asked what she hopes to achieve by giving talks and holding meetings like she did in Tewksbury, Fitzgerald says that she hopes to raise awareness about kids who are in need of care, she hopes to open hearts and homes, and educate potential foster families about applying to be a foster family, and the expectations that come with it. She hopes that if one thing can be taken away from her work, it is the message that “all kids deserve to be safe in loving foster homes.”
As a brochure from the handed out folder states:
“At any given time there are 6,000-9,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts, representing all ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds.”
The positive impact and benefits the foster care system has and can give to foster kids placed in a loving home knows no boundaries, and it is crucial for potential foster parents and families to be properly educated, so that they may be ready to open their homes to children in need, and leave a positive impact that will last a lifetime.
To learn more about how you can be educated on the importance of foster care and how you can apply, go to https://www.mass.gov/foster-care