We are at the kids table chatting with the Director of Foster Care at Berkshire Farm Center and Services For Youth, Gloria Moran. It’s no secret there is a growing need for foster parents here in the United States. But did you know that you could make a difference in a child’s life, even if it’s for a short time? Yes, you!
Gloria dispels some of the common myths & stereotypes about becoming a foster parent, and ways you could provide needed support to foster families & children.
Tell me about who you are, your career history, what did you study in college and where do you work now:
I started my career, one of the most exciting things I did was volunteer for Americorps. I volunteered in Spanish Harlem which is where I met my fiancé. We both worked for the same school, working with underprivileged youth and trying to revive the district and build up the school.
Do you speak Spanish?
At the time I was learning. But I need to pick up Rosetta Stone and work on it, its something that is very important for my field, I gotta work on that.
Since then, I have been all over the place. I am really interested in helping anyone. I’ve never been the type of person where homelessness is my thing or foster care is my thing. I just want to help people and empower them.
One of my other favorite positions was with The Women’s Prison Association and we did a Women’s’ Empowerment Group. I was a student at the time, we taught policy, how do you advocate and lobbying days, we went to the Capital. It was really cool, especially at that age. I was 22, you have some self doubts: “I’m young why would they want to take a class with me.” It was an internship, I was just supposed to be supporting the person that was leading it. They ended up saying, “I’m busy, you got this.”
Some of the best experiences are when you’re just thrown into them.
That has been my entire career. I have only applied for 1 position. It’s always been that I was volunteering then took a position there, or someone knew me, networking, and me getting excited and saying I’ll do things.
So what fills your day now?
I work at Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth. We’re a child welfare agency, I’m the Director of Foster Care and I’ve been there for almost 2 years now. There are 6 directors across the state, I cover the Capital Region.
In terms of the entire agency, I work in Foster Care but we also have preventative services, group homes, behavioral health services. It’s all about keeping kids in their families, in their communities and serving them so they can live safely, productively, and independently in their home communities. That’s what I really love about this, is that its home community based and keeping them in growing and empowering communities and families.
Can you go into a little more detail about Berkshire Farm?
Berkshire Farm started in 1886 in Canaan. It was just a couple that owned a farm that wanted to help boys in need in the community and that started group home services. From there, Foster Care has really become the biggest thing. Not bringing youth into a group home unless they really need it but placing youth in a foster family in their community, in their school district.
The other is prevention services, which is helping youth before they have to go into foster care, trying to prevent that. The whole thing is to keep families together. We currently serve over 2000 youth over NY, we are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, child welfare agencies for the state. We work with almost every single county and because we want to be in the communities we’re serving we have offices everywhere.
This is the biggest office, most of the satellite offices are tiny offices spread across the state, which allows us to be near the people we work with.
It is so interesting that Berkshire Farm started in the 1800s. That’s so cool this organization has been around for over 100 years.
I think that the passion that started it is still the same. If you go on our website you can see all the original documents about Berkshire Farm, read about the history, learn about the family. We had a very family oriented start to the agency.
And a very family oriented goal.
What does a day in the life of the Director of Foster Care at Berkshire Farm look like?
I don’t think any day is similar at all. I guess that the easiest way to answer is to talk about some of my favorite pieces of the job where I focus my energy. This is my first job managing such a large team. I’ve always found, no matter what agency I’m in or what population I’m serving, that one of the most important things is that the front line employees have what they need, they’re supported, they don’t get jaded.
There is so much turnover in this industry, especially child welfare specifically. So its being with my staff, checking in with them. I spend a lot of hours just going in the office and saying “How’s it going?” and we end up talking for two hours about how its going, projects, ideas and what we can do. Which means I have to go home and work for 5 more hours on the other stuff, but that’s OK. I want to empower them and give them the tools that they need.
To clarify, do you work directly with children or do you oversee the team that works directly with children?
I try whenever I can to get that child contact, because I love it. The order is front line workers as I call them, Family Specialists which is a case management position and the Home Finders, those are the ones serving our foster home, training them, engaging them, and retaining them because being a foster parent is hard.
Then we have some community based aids and some others sprinkled in there, but those are the base positions that are in the field and working with the kids. They are overseen by Program Coordinators, they’re assigned by county and usually have 2 counties. I oversee the Program Coordinators and oversee 8 counties.
How many Program Coordinators are there at Berkshire Farm?
In this office there are 3 Foster Care Program Coordinators. We are a big office so we also have 3 Prevention Care Program Coordinators, there’s a different director overseeing prevention care.
I read an article that said if the goal of foster care is adoption then you’re not doing it for the right reasons. Obviously there are extreme situations but if the goal is to reunite with the biological parents, how do you manage those expectations with foster families?
The certification process at Berkshire Farm is 12 weeks. We call this training a journey rather than a training because it really is about exploring every facet of your emotional self: Where you are in life, where your family is, what resources you have and then giving you sample stories of the youth coming into your home. Like this child comes into your home, this is their behavior, here’s what’s happening. Now two years later they’re going back to their birth family. We play out those emotional stories, and its tough.
A lot of people do come in with the idea to adopt. Its through this map journey that we’re able to get them to a different place, or ultimately not. They decide that foster care isn’t their thing they would be too emotionally attached. I respect those people as I respect the people who do decide to foster.
I will say the inspiring piece is seeing people change and their perspective changes and they realize they’re part of something bigger than themselves, its not just a kid, its a family and a community. And you’re going to build that family and community.
We have some foster parents that are so dedicated. They journal and send pictures back and forth to the birth parent, eventually meeting them. And when they’re reunified, they’re going to the kid’s birthday party. They’re still part of that life. It doesn’t have to be the end if you don’t make it that way.
I think its important, and I’m sure your organization does this, to educate the foster parents not to look at the bio parents as bad people, the enemy or bad parents. You’re working in people’s lives.
Yes, we say that most people are one crisis away from being in a similar situation. Things fall fast, and that’s a lot of the stories we will give. You’re reading a story about your stereotypical perfect family, and everything is going well then Dad loses a job and starts drinking and you’re in some place you never expected to be.
Then we give another example, the kids you’re serving don’t get help along the way, grows up in this strife, and is surrounded by people using drugs and they end up in the same situation. Building up the empathy from whatever line it is is important. That empathy is going to be helpful when you’re in love with this kid in your home, and you want that parent to be perfect right now. But nobody is perfect, and they’re trying.
What can someone do if they don’t feel their calling is to become a foster parent but want to offer support?
We have people with 6 kids that still become foster parents, so I don’t want anybody to rule it out if they have the heart for it. Come and talk about it. Go to our website, and join our mission. There are a variety of ways, from donating to our mission fund which goes towards youth going to camp over the summer, buying a bike for a kid, supporting foster families. You can become part of our Holiday Angel where we get presents for the youth.
The foster parents get a stipend, but its not quite enough. Be friends with foster parents. Help get the word out there. Foster parents are able to do what they’re able to do because they have a huge network for support. Mostly its education. We have a lot of kids, we’re always filling homes faster than we’re opening them.
What about becoming a care provider, babysitting or respite?
Respite is a huge need, and you are becoming a certified foster parent to do respite. Respite is providing for a foster family or a preventative family some needed respite, some time away. You would care for these kids for some time, typically it’s a weekend or up to 21 days. You of course would agree to it ahead of time. It’s an invaluable service.
Foster parents want to be foster parents. But what about when they go on vacation for two weeks every summer? Respite is the reason foster parents are able to do that. In addition, when using preventative services and trying to keep families together, they need to go to drug counseling or they just need a break because their kids do have a lot of behaviors and they need time to work on themselves. You can provide that needed support by taking the kids for a weekend.
My husband and I became certified care takers so we could babysit for friends of ours with foster kids.
Just to clarify, its through knowing someone who is a foster parent that you can become a cleared resource. That’s why I go that direction of know someone, find a foster parent. We’ve gotten calls: “I don’t want to go through the whole certification but I want to babysit for this person.” Some foster parents are open to making new friends. But that’s the avenue to do that.
Besides the physical people, the foster parents, what else is the greatest need in the foster care system?
A couple come to mind. We need more support services always for the actual youth to process their situation. That is complicated and clinical. We have an amazing behavioral health department here that does that kind of work but we always need more of that and more training for foster parents.
If anyone does know a lot about trauma, mental health services, diagnosis, or to provide training to our foster parents that would be great.
Other things that come to mind, teenagers. They are one of my most passionate areas because they may find no permanency because they are choosing a goal called APPLA, which is to go off on their own-which means they are aging out of the foster system. For some youths its fine. The statistics around kids aging out of the foster care system are not promising, the teen pregnancy rate is high, the recidivism, which is trying to go back into the care system which is fine, we support that. The prison rate is high, all these different things.
Ultimately, everyone wants a resource in their life, everyone needs one and I think people are afraid of teenagers, especially teenage boys. A lot of times they don’t find that connection. We have a lot of foster parents who won’t take in teenagers. It does go back to needing foster parents, but we need foster parents willing to take teens and support for teenagers.
Will you dispel some of the myths about the foster care system?
I think those myths are some of the things that keep foster parents away. House full of 12 kids, or the completely wrong myth that people are in it for the money. One, its not possible because of the process we go through. We make sure people are financially stable.
Two, we don’t suggest 12 kids in a house, we won’t allow it. In NY State legally you aren’t allowed to have more than 6 foster children anyway. And its only that high because you could have a sibling group of 6 and we want to keep siblings together.
Generally we don’t want to place more than 2-3 kids, actually 1 kid is ideal. If we could have enough foster homes where we could give you one child and you could put all of your energy into them, that’s what we’d want to happen.
That is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. The more families there are, the less crowded chaos there would be.
Other myths too, people think they can’t foster because they’re single or think they don’t have enough resources or same sex couples. Some of our best foster homes are single women- talk about women empowerment.
Honestly, marriage or a relationship is often what can get in the way. Its hard to get on the same page about this youth that is in your home, you don’t know, behaviors come up. You don’t need a partner to foster and we definitely have LGBTQ partnered relationships.
Don’t think you can’t be it. If you want to be a foster parent, don’t care about who else is or what they look like. If you’re calling us because you care, you probably can be a foster parent
What are some really amazing stories that you’ve experienced as director at Berkshire Farm?
There’s a lot, and that’s really what keeps us going. One of our program coordinators is so passionate, she says its those tiniest of moments that really get you going. Of course a reunification or an adoption is something to celebrate, and we do.
We had this young child that would not brush his teeth and one day the foster parent called up to share that he had brushed his teeth. Its the tiniest thing but that made her cry.
I’m thinking of a specific teenager, from the first time I met her, couldn’t list a single strength for herself. She was adopted recently and she was boasting about herself, as a teenager should be!
Its those small moments that fill you with a lot of joy that lasts for a long time.
What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
It's the hardest job I’ve ever had, for a lot of different reasons. You could talk about working with so many different systems and so many people and that’s a lot to juggle, but it will always go back to the kids.
I would say what’s freshest in my mind is when a youth comes in to care and we’re struggling to find a placement.
Where do they go while you’re looking for a placement?
Hopefully by the time we get the call they haven’t picked up the youth but they know they’re going to. Hopefully by the time they send the car we’ll send them right to where they need to go. We have time to plan. But often its not, its an emergency.
The county actually has the kids in care and the social workers are picking them up and taking them to county social services. They try, some have fresh paint and toys, but it doesn’t feel welcoming and they’re just sitting there not knowing where they’re supposed to go. And we’re calling foster parents, and they’re humans so it takes a while for them to answer the phone.
It can be difficult to find the right match, which again is why we need foster parents so we can facilitate that quickly and they don’t have to wait.
How do you compartmentalize and set boundaries about things you learn on your job and not bring that home?
Its a learning process. I will say, especially in this field, legally you can’t take it home. The team dynamic is huge. I was here late yesterday, not because I had to be, but because I was talking to one of my coworkers. Sometimes you have to talk it out and process it before you do go home.
I will say, Berkshire Farm is really great one of the little things we do, at our last meeting we gave everyone a stack of affirmation cards that you pull out and read to yourself every day. We have the sanctuary model, which emphasizes self care. Its a trauma informed model that we use here. But for me personally, its definitely my team. My team is the reason I’ve stayed and the reason I get through it.
What kind of background does someone need to work at Berkshire Farm?
We have a variety of positions. The Home Finder position, that’s the one where you’re working with the foster parent, supporting them, finding them and training them. We don’t require a degree, but you go through extensive training. We find the most important skill set is to engage and to have that support and be able to be on the phone and support that foster parent for an hour. There’s no degree that needs that.
The other positions are regulated by the state so you do need a Bachelors to do case management work and a Masters to do any supervisory work.
You said your team is what motivates you to come back every day. Besides them, what do you do to keep yourself up?
I want to keep myself full so I can support my team to keep them from becoming jaded. I am very creative and I like to solve problems. Giving myself a problem to solve keeps me going and gets me thinking creatively about how to make it easier and better and being solution oriented.
For instance, I just started a Kinship Care Committee, that’s a statewide committee that we’re sharing the successes of kinship. Kinship Care is foster care but with someone the child already knows. We typically think of it as a relative but could be anyone with a positive relationship with this child, a neighbor, a teacher, a coach. There is a huge push, and Berkshire Farm is really leading the way.
But its different, we’re used to this cookie cutter, they want these regulations but instead its “I already have three kids and I never really wanted another one but I want to do this” but they’ve never agreed to have all these people in their home so its a different way of looking at it.
What is your push, what is the committee about?
The idea is there are multiple issues you’ll run into. Not every county and agency is on board yet so first we have to get them on board. There’s this notion, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, we need to dispel that myth. Its not only incorrect, its dis-empowering to the people you’re serving.
If a family or their resources are not, if their family isn’t worth it, then why is this kid worth it? And Berkshire Farm is a community based organization so we believe in the power of the people in the community. That’s something really gets me going and building that culture and educating and showing the outcome is better for kids placed with someone they know.
The research is outstanding. Compared to non-kin placements, kids in kinship care have better behavioral health outcomes, they have better school and academic achievements, better long term permanency success meaning they actually maintain whatever their permanency is- which is nearly double the chances of teenagers in care. They’re more likely to report feeling loved, that’s the one I love the most.
And it makes sense, how can you feel like you’re not part of something as much as a foster family tries to love you and support you. This person came for me and knew me and made them feel special. Which I think is the beginning roots of all these other outcomes.
If you feel loved, everything else comes with it. Its sharing things like that, getting people a little emotional.
The month of May is Foster Care Awareness month. How can someone get involved in a simple way?
Visit our website and you’ll see where you can join our mission. It is so different how people want to be involved. Berkshire Farm is all across the state and all of our offices do a little something for it.
You can also contact your local office and be part of their event. Here in Albany there’s a parade that goes on. The idea of foster care awareness month, its interesting the history of it. Foster care is so confidential and the goal is to not identify kids who are in foster care. But we need foster parents and not talking about it is a huge injustice. The mindset is changing a bit.
Kids in foster care don’t need to be ashamed of being in foster care, so talk about it. Talking about it with your kids and with your friends. Instant Family is a cute movie, watch it and talk about it.