The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Michelle Bigelbach
The Courier 

Glasgow Residents Bring Unique Voice On Fostering To D.C.

 

February 5, 2020

Courtesy Photo / For the Courier

Jenn Calkin (r) poses with her husband, Warren Calkin (l) in this couple's portrait. The two recently traveled to D.C. to give their input on the foster care system.

Glasgow residents, foster parents and advocates for children in the foster care system, Jenn and Warren Calkin recently received an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., Jan. 15 and 16, to participate in the Adoption Call to Action Summit and provide a northeastern Montana voice to policies and procedures currently being developed for children in the foster care system who are ready for adoption.

The summit included 14 training sessions, allowing representatives from each state to learn new things on how to best assist children in the foster care system. In addition to attending the individual workshops, there was a chance for representatives to reconvene as a group to discuss what was learned and what could be implemented in their state. "We attended a workshop called 'Finding Family' which provides ways to find the foster child's family in order to reach out and try to develop the relationship with the family. We also attended a workshop on tribal relations," said J. Calkin. "One unique thing I found out was the state of Utah expanded their definition of kinship. So instead of aunts, uncles and cousins, a close family friend or even a daycare provider can be considered kinship, which provides more options for the child."

Children and Family Services (CFS) representatives from throughout the United States convened at the summit with the ultimate focus on having plans in place for foster children to find their forever family more quickly instead of waiting in limbo when parental rights are terminated. Representatives from each state determined a goal of what they wanted to see changed in the foster system to make the focus happen. In addition to the Calkins, Montana representatives at the summit, including a court official, another foster parent who used to be a CFS worker, a head of licensing and a member from an organization who provides support to foster children, decided they wanted to see more transparent communication.

According to the Calkins, transparent communication can involve many different parties within the child's life, including foster parent and biological parent. "When we first started fostering, we were terrified our foster child would be taken away. The goal of fostering is reunification and sometimes that gets forgotten. We have now realized we should be nurturing the relationship between the child and their biological family and make allies," said J. Calkin. "We don't want communication between foster parents and biological family to be unsettling or scary. The biological family may not have the means to take care of the child at the moment but that relationship doesn't need to be severed."

Transparent communication also includes communication between the foster parents and the case worker. "Case workers here are very overwhelmed. When a foster parent has a question that could be answered from another experienced foster parent, that helps the load for the case worker," said J. Calkin. As part of an advisory committee to put transparent communication into practice, the Calkins will meet with other members on a quarterly basis. Even though the first meeting hasn't been held yet, they are hoping a chat board website can be created that will provide not only information to foster parents but also the ability to ask and answer questions. "A question like, 'what if I lost my child's Medicaid card?' can be answered by another foster parent who has been through that situation instead of having to ask the caseworker," said J. Calkin. They are also hoping the website will include assessment and specialist information, what to look for in children if they are affected by drugs and alcohol and other information that would be useful in order to prevent a contact to the caseworker.

One factor that the Calkins were very vocal about while attending the summit was the uniqueness of establishing a relationship with the tribes, involving them in this process as well as how the entire process affects the tribes. "In our side of the state, generational trauma prevents family building and they are not as open to allow adoptions to happen," said W. Calkin. Each tribe has their own rules and laws in terms of adoption, and the Calkins believe every voice should be heard. "We need to get the tribes involved in this process. We need to add them to the advisory board. Someone needs to be a liaison between the State CFS and the tribes," said J. Calkin.

Though the Calkins have a lot ahead of them, they are excited to start implementing their ideas and providing a voice for this side of the state and to children. They have already been invited to attend the summit next year. "Even though this will take years to implement, we are excited for the opportunity," said W. Calkin.

In addition to providing a voice and helping implement processes to make the adoption process quicker, the Calkins also assist foster families and children in the area. J. Calkin takes photos of foster children under the care of foster parents so they have the ability to keep memories. The photos are also provided to the child's caseworker so the photo will always be with the child. They also organize Izzy's Closet, currently located in Jennifer Ray's Photography Studio with plans currently in process to have a location in Malta, which provides foster parents with necessary items for foster children recently placed in their care and hosts a foster parents' support group that meets the last Thursday of every month at the Cottonwood Inn. "If you know a foster family, offer to watch their kids. Take them a meal. Knowing there is support from those around you is nice," explained J. Calkin.

For more information on Izzy's Closet or how you can help the Calkins, they can be contacted through the Izzy's Closet Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/miaandizzy/.

 

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