TOPEKA – Currently, there are approximately 6,000 children in foster care in Kansas. Nearly 60 percent of them will be reunited with their families. Governor Brownback has designated June as Family Reunification Month—a time to call attention to the work parents do to ensure that their children can return to a safe and loving home.
“We commend the moms and dads who make their children a top priority by completing the requirements necessary to reunite their families,” Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.
Four Kansas families are sharing their stories of reunification, including Eric Donald and Nicolette Daniels. Their two children were removed from their care.
“The low point for me was probably losing my family and knowing that I was the cause of the situation,” Donald said.
The couple worked closely with DCF and its contracted foster care and family preservation services provider for the area, KVC, in partnership with community resource Transitions Counseling Services’ Safe Kids Program to do the work necessary to get their children back. Among some of the requirements, they had to take parenting classes. They decided to take twice as many as required.
“That was probably the roughest six months of my life, bar none,” Donald said. “So the advice I could give someone that’s in jeopardy, just do everything in your power that you can to ensure that your children stay with you, whether it be seeking counseling or doing what the court systems are asking you to do.”
More than 90 percent of children reunified with their families do not return to foster care within 12 months. Reintegration services are offered to parents by KVC in the DCF’s Kansas City and East regions and by Saint Francis Community Services in DCF’s West and Wichita regions.
The four families that wish to share their stories include:
- Daniels family, Kansas City
- Strahler family, Topeka
- Bazan family, Norton
- Garza family, Wichita
(Complete video interviews and footage are available on the DCF ftp site. You can preview the interviews on the DCF website, Family Reunification Month Family Stories).
During Family Reunification Month, DCF is also asking the general public to support families in crisis. You can help parents who have had their children removed in the following ways:
Offer transportation. Birth parents need help getting to meetings with agency staff, case plans, court hearings, mental health appointments, etc.
Help with phone calls. Birth parents don’t always have access to a cell phone or have minutes available to use to schedule and maintain necessary case planning meetings. Make your phone available or arrange for a location parents can take/make calls.
Provide mentoring. Birth parents are often struggling with many issues related to their children being removed. Their self-esteem is often at an all-time low, and having someone to visit with them one-on one to prioritize what they need to work on, can be invaluable. Setting a good example and simply serving as a friend goes a long way.
Let them know they’re not alone. Offer a ride to community gatherings and introduce the parents to people who can help. Birth parents can feel isolated from the community and support. Encouraging community engagement will allow the parents to feel connected.
Provide a list of support groups. No matter the issue, there is likely a support group available. Group topics range from substance abuse to effective parenting.
Work with the agency on providing nutritional snacks and/or activities for visits. Many times a parent is required to provide nutritional snacks and activities for their visits with the children. This can be overwhelming and place an additional strain on limited funds. Helping the birth parent with coloring books, activities and other age-appropriate activities, as well as nutritional snacks can take a huge burden off parents.
For a complete list of ways to help, visit Ideas to Support Birth Parents.