Five years ago, my sister told me that the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles was having a meeting for parents who had been through the system and reunified with their children. I was thinking, “What do they want from us?” But my sister and I went together.
The social workers asked us, ”What did you go through? Can you tell us how you felt?” My children were in foster care for four years, many years ago. I was offered no services. I didn’t understand my rights at all. I told my story and said, “I felt that the department failed us.”
The social workers said that they wanted to form a group of parents who could help educate and support parents with open cases. That’s how the Parents in Partnership program got started.
We pass out flyers in court, at the DCFS office and at the community programs. We have an information line and an orientation to educate families about their rights and responsibilities. We explain how to build relationships with their social workers and their child’s foster parents and advocate for themselves.
We also have an ongoing support group, facilitated by parents, where they can learn about resources, vent, and open up. The parents come with a lot of fear, frustration, anger and confusion. Because we’ve been through the system, we can talk to parents in their language. Parents don’t understand social workers. We’re able to relate to them in a way that social workers can’t, and empower them by letting them know their rights and by telling them our stories.
We see that building a relationship with social workers is hard for parents. Parents complain that social workers don’t return calls. We teach parents how to go up the chain of command. Parents are afraid to do that. They’re scared of the system and scared that the social worker will be mad at them. We tell them, “You have to do that or you won’t get what you need for yourself and your child.”
What’s most rewarding for me is to see parents who have been through the system working as a team with social workers to help families reunify with their children. It feels good that we’re supporting new families and evolving into leaders.