Letter 6 November 27, 2013

We are the Kopp family and we are entering into our 25th year of fostering for Alberta Children Services. One of the roles I do within my fostering career is as a volunteer in the area of advocacy for foster homes that have had allegations reported within their homes. I am there for the foster parents, kinship and adoptive caregivers undergoing investigation. For several years I have been involved in working with other caregivers, staff of ACS and community, towards better outcomes for the children and youth in care and their caregivers as a whole. I have seen and been part of many a change and the never ending need for change.

I am writing today in response to the articles regarding the Fatal Care series. One of my intentions here is to address both the system and the people that work tirelessly within that very system.

Alberta Children Services like many Protective Services nationally face chronic organizational challenges that undermine their ability to provide appropriate case management, services, and supports to the children and families in their care. Reports of children being injured or dying while in care throw the entire system into crisis in all areas inclusive of foster families and other caregivers under the umbrella of Foster Care.

This is what I know and has been my experience. That ACS is an overtaxed System that has the responsibility to take on more and more children suffering with more complex problems than before, and all under the scrutiny of the media as is witnessed by the articles published as of late.

Do you know the amount of stress that goes into the day-to-day job of being a worker or in a management position having to make critical decisions every single day? Please keep in mind the fact that many workers have lives and families of their own and yet I personally know of several of them, that have, when a foster parent calls to say their foster child is in need of emergent medical attention, or a youth has put themselves at risk, they leave their families, and go to be at the side of the child and caregiver?

It is my belief that in most situations ACS truly does try to do what is “in the best interest of the child”. The question asked by many is what does that term mean. It is my understanding that it is used to describe a set of principles, and facts within each individual situation that quide a judge to consider, when assessing what decisions would keep a child or children safe. That same judge than relies on ACS to meet the needs of the child(ren) including, at times, putting the child into care with the end goal many times being reunification with family of origin. The “best interests of a child” is very subjective and often very frustrating for those who care for a child and have a different point of view as to what would be in a child’s best interest.

Children have been placed in our home and others for a number of reasons. For some, that begins shortly after their birth, when it is clear that a mother is unable or yes, unwilling to care for her newborn. Other children come into care as the result of disclosure to a teacher, a social worker, police, or a member of the community and also sometimes by members of their own biological family. A number of children that have been placed in our home may have experienced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of adults in their lives. Many are also placed with us as the result of parents battling mental illness, poverty, addictions, which have seen them neglect or harm their own children.

Foster parents have no role in the decision that sees children being brought in to care for any reason. Foster parents are the ones the children are brought to nurture, care for, and in many cases we have needed the help of the biological Mom or Dad to care for their children, until they can get on their feet, or work on themselves so that they can regain custody of their beautiful children.

Respect is very important when working to build any effective relationship with the biological family of the children we have placed with us. The respect must be reciprocated within all relationships within the service team inclusive of the case worker and the job they do as well.

However, it is our hope that the current misinformation and pointing of fingers by this type of journalism will create opportunity for change. The challenge given ACS is how to identify areas of need and then implement change, and direct the system toward positive change that can only improve the lives of children who come into foster care. We are confident this can be done by this administration, led by the Honorable David Hancock.

The current ministry has, in our opinion, demonstrated that they are making sincere efforts and progress toward the implementation of better performance standards needed to allow for better outcomes for biological families. With the help of our family and others we witnes this in the way of:

  •  Children in care can have greater access to early-childhood preschool programs.
  • Youths given access to post-secondary education and transitional supports until age 22.

Children in care receive routine health care, immunizations, and services to address developmental delays.

  • Children in care receive a thorough physical and medical checkup shortly after, if not before, coming into foster care to identify any immediate medical needs.
  • Infants receive a thorough pediatric assessment within days of being taken into care.
  • Children in care consistently seen by dentists, optometrists and medical specialists to ensure good health and physical care.

Children in care receive ongoing developmental, educational, and emotional assessments.

  • Foster parents of infants and toddlers currently are receiving special training on the special needs of their children called, Safe Babies.
  • Monies being allocated to cover the additional cost of formula and diapers and such, along with monies for cribs and the like.

    It is with admiration that I can say, through experience, that ACS is building partnerships with community-based agencies to provide more physically and culturally accessible services for biological families as well as foster, kinship and adoptive families, identified as the Outcome Based Services Delivery Model (OBSD) We were skeptical as

to this program, but we have recently had placed in our home a sibling group under OBSD. We are so impressed with this and see it as the way to go that would see an all- encompassing approach for everyone in the lives of our children in care inclusive of bio- families and extended family members.

In addition, practices such as family group conferencing incorporate family input into the decision-making process. A family group conference is a formal meeting in which the child’s immediate family members, extended family, and community members come together to develop a plan for their care. I very recently was a participant in a family group conferencing. It proved to be an effective tool for developing good case plans on the path to achieving permanency for two of the children in our home. What was most impressive, I felt, was the historically adversarial nature of The System and how due to this specific process it was tempered and provided a strong base for a more consensual decision making on these two children’s behalf.

In closing we would like people out there to know that ACS and Alberta’s caregivers face daunting challenges every single day, and the articles in print currently has only added to their stress. Notwithstanding, it is not so much what we do but indeed who we are that would see us work with and for the children in our homes and with trust and respect from and toward those that staff ACS, right from the top down. It is also true that foster care is a necessary lifeline that undoubtedly saves thousands of abused and maltreated children each year. We would ask that everyone look at these articles with open minds and indeed the understanding there are more positive stories and outcomes for so many more children who have been in foster care than not. We invite those that have had a positive experience, to tell their stories, whether it be foster parents, and former children and youth in care. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving at our home means an overflow of our biological daughters, adopted son, foster children (who we call our specially chosen) grandchildren, too many to count when you include the many that are the babies of former foster children calling and dropping by.

Respectfully Paulette Kopp