ST. LUCIE WEST — A law that went into effect last fall is changing the way child-wellbeing professionals work with birth families while their children are in foster care.
And unlike many rules and statutes that lose sight of the individuals they mean to serve, this one puts human kindness front and center.
More specifically, changes under the law are meant to ensure better relationships and transitions for children through co-parenting, a partnership between biological and foster parents that was once best practice but is now required.
That means significant change for case managers, child-placing specialists and caregiver support teams is on the horizon.
Many, like Licensing and Caregivers Support Specialist Jerra Wisecup, have spent the last year preparing for those changes. Wisecup co-leads a committee charged with the implementation of comfort calls, calls placed to parents within a few hours of removal.
“The No. 1 goal of this call is to say, ‘Johnny got there safely, and let me introduce you to the people who are going to take care of him for a little while.’” said Wisecup, who works for Communities Connected for Kids, the organization that oversees the child wellbeing system in Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
Establishing that connection recognizes the important role a parent plays in his or her child’s life and acknowledges that they are still the experts when it comes to their children.
“We all know something went wrong, but we also know you’ve been caring for this child his entire life, you know what kind of foods he likes, when he last went to a doctor and what his favorite bedtime story is,” Wisecup said.
The next requirements created by the new law is a face-to-face meeting, followed by the creation of a partnership, or transition, plan.
Everyone – from the child’s mother and father to his caregivers in foster care – will have a part in the plan, which is intended to alleviate some of the grief and loss experienced by both birth and foster parents, first when the child enters foster care and then when he goes home again.
The end game is a long-term relationship between the caregiver and the family that can bloom into invitations to a child’s play, holiday dinners and babysitting, Wisecup said.
“Relationships that develop out of the initial comfort call is intended to begin an entire culture shift that prioritizes the relationship between child and parent,” she said.
That in turn makes for a smoother transition for the child, both into and out of the foster-care system.