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May 2021Vol. 22, No. 5A Message From Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg

For this month's message from Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg, we feature an interview conducted by Joshua Christian Oswald, youth engagement coordinator intern at the Children's Bureau. Joshua's interview with Associate Commissioner Schomburg kicks off National Foster Care Month and discusses this year's theme, "Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents." Visit the National Foster Care Month website for more resources featuring this special initiative.

Joshua: What does the theme, "Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents," mean to you, and what does it highlight for you?

Associate Commissioner:  Parents are first responders, and as first responders they answer the call every day. That's why, to me, every month is National Foster Care Month. However, it is important that we carve out the month of May to express our gratitude to the dedicated foster parents who have provided safe, loving, and temporary, homes to children and families in need. I'm putting emphasis on temporary because many years ago, when my job was to recruit foster parents, I learned that the most successful foster parents were those who embraced their role as temporary coparents. Those who were doing the best work—where children were experiencing the shortest time to reunification with their families—were usually either kinship parents or foster parents who also supported the birth parents in achieving reunification with their child and helped a family get back on track. Sometimes, helping the family included the whole family—mom, dad, children, and even aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In a perfect world, there would never be a need for foster care, but we know that there may be times when a family needs support. However, I know of foster parents who provided such extraordinary love and support that the family became stronger and the foster parent became part of the extended family! This is the gold standard.

Joshua: Foster care is meant to be temporary, yet for far too many young people it isn't. We need a child welfare system that is geared toward primary prevention, limits the use of foster care, and more quickly helps families when their children do need to be temporarily placed in foster care. I have heard many young people with lived expertise ask the system, "Why didn't you help my parents?"

Since being appointed as the Associate Commissioner, I know you have begun working on the Thriving Families, Safer Children: A National Commitment to Well-Being initiative. How do you see this initiative intersect with the theme of National Foster Care Awareness Month?

Associate Commissioner: Thriving Families, Safer Children has, in a fairly short period of time, galvanized 23 jurisdictions to begin thinking seriously about a world where the focus is on child and family well-being and prevention. When I think about Thriving Families, Safer Children and National Foster Care Month at the same time, I consider how the foster care system can turn the mirror on itself and ask, "Are we doing everything we can to help families whose children are NOT in foster care?" I would challenge the system to look at where it is investing its resources. Will a look at the budget reveal that there is investment in prevention? Has there been an investment in helping communities innovate around what primary prevention means to them? In New York City, there are family enrichment centers to support families who are not necessarily involved in foster care. This is a primary prevention strategy that aligns with Thriving Families, Safer Children because it acknowledges that we need to support families before child protection is called and proves that the foster care system can invest in this strategy and that it can be successful. There are similar examples throughout the country. Thriving Families, Safer Children can seize the opportunity that National Foster Care Month  presents to challenge jurisdictions to examine their resources and make the shift toward giving communities what they say they need to thrive.

Joshua: We know you are a passionate advocate and have been tapped to be a leader in addressing the President's Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. From your career journey responding to racial disparities and inequities, how do you think we can we advance racial equity during National Foster Care Month?

Associate Commissioner: The first thing we need to do is call it out. The child welfare system is steeped in racism and the certain communities—Black, Brown, LGBTQ+, and disabled—are being treated unfairly. Most of us know this—but what are we doing about it? National Foster Care Month is an opportunity to highlight all things foster care. We can celebrate the strides and accomplishments, but we must also acknowledge who we have failed. We are in the midst of a time in this country where a lot of attention is being paid to systemic racism. Guess what? The foster care system is not excused. After we acknowledge that racism and bias have roots deep in the child welfare system, we must take action to address the inequity. So as for advancing racial equity during National Foster Care Month—don't just talk about it, act upon it.