Jewish Foster Parents Needed: Children’s Village Advocacy Group Helps Families in Distress
When Dr. Lizzy Weisinger, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist in private practice, received a phone call from a Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) social worker at 10:45 p.m., she didn’t know that she was about to embark on a life-changing mission. The social worker had with him a frum 14-year-old girl who had no place to go. He asked if Dr. Weisinger would be available to take her in for emergency fostering. Otherwise, he would take the girl to a shelter.
Dr. Weisinger had no experience with fostering, but she understood that sending a frum 14-year-old to a shelter was a recipe for disaster. Despite her hesitations, she said yes. The social worker dropped the girl off at her house at 12:15 a.m. Thus began Dr. Weisinger’s journey into the world of emergency foster care. Along the way, she learned that there were many more Jewish children in need of Jewish foster homes. Dr. Weisinger helped form the Children’s Village Advocacy Group, and today, she serves as its Clinical Director of Mental Health Services.
Natalie Zangan, Psy. D, MFTA, the founder and director of Children’s Village Advocacy, is an experienced foster parent. Together with her husband, Rabbi Bijan Refael Zangan, she fosters children on an emergency and long-term basis. With their own two sets of twins, their home is now full to capacity, but the Zangans continue to receive phone calls about Jewish children in need of foster care. “We have to delegate and do what we can to help,” says Mrs. Zangan.
To that end, she founded Children’s Village Advocacy and began a WhatsApp group for potential foster parents. Since the group’s inception six months ago, 13 Jewish children were placed with Jewish foster families.
Recently, Children’s Village Advocacy held a meeting to raise awareness of the need for Jewish foster homes. Farshad Sinai, Director of Community Awareness and Involvement at Children’s Village Advocacy, spoke movingly about his own experience as a foster parent. He explained that the organization’s work is motivated solely by the desire to help. Children’s Village is “a community effort, 100% voluntary based, because we care,” he said. He urged everyone to get involved in whichever way they can, using their own strengths to help children in need.
Then Rabbi Zangan added a spiritual perspective on foster care. “This is holy work, trying to save neshamot,” he said. It is not easy work, and sometimes the obstacles seem unsurmountable. He spoke about Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, who reached for the basket with baby Moshe, even though it was out of reach, and miraculously, her hand stretched far enough. “If Hashem puts it in front of us, all we have to do is stretch out our hand and take the first step,” said Rabbi Zangan.
Mrs. Zangan added, “Every call to DCFS is nothing less than a Batya experience.” The timing and circumstances of a particular case make it seem impossible to place the children with a Jewish family, but she makes the effort anyway, and miraculously, everything falls into place and the children end up in a warm Jewish home. She praised the efforts of the police and DCFS for working together with Children’s Village Advocacy to create a better situation for the families.
Mrs. Zangan also spoke about prevention and what a struggling family can do to ensure that DCFS does not take away their children. She suggested networking and putting a safety plan into place. Currently, Children’s Village Advocacy runs a help hotline which offers free services to struggling parents. They also coordinate community efforts to help, including providing meals for new foster parents, allowing them to spend more time with their foster children.
The next speaker, Dina Stuhl, who has been working for DCFS for 26 years, spoke about DCFS’s commitment to do everything they can to stabilize the biological family so that the foster children can either stay at home or return home if removal was needed to ensure the child’s safety. Only if it is determined that reunification efforts have failed to show that the children can be safe at home would DCFS look to enact an alternative permanent placement.
Mrs. Stuhl also spoke about the process of becoming foster parents, now called Resource Families, and the courses people would need to take to meet the state requirements. She also mentioned that in case of emergency, a family member, or affective kin could, after passing a quick clearance and home walk-through, take children in right away and then follow up with the rest of the qualification process.
Dr. Weisinger spoke about the psychological impact of foster care on the child. She emphasized the need to find appropriate placement as soon as possible because each move from one foster home to another further builds on the initial trauma of separation from the biological family. That’s why it’s crucial to have certified foster families in the community. “People lined up for emergency placement would prevent a lot of long-term trauma,” she said, adding that a certified family can always say no to a specific placement.
Dr. Weisinger also mentioned how important it is for Jewish children to feel that the community cares about them and will stand by them. Her foster child was moved to tears when complete strangers would bring food and clothes for her. For a child who attends a Jewish school, it is important to do everything possible to keep the child in the same school, which is where the community can also be of great help, especially if tuition assistance is needed.
Other participants in the meeting described their own experiences with foster care and the challenges they’ve faced along the way. There was also a discussion of monitoring visits with biological parents, which is something community members can do even if they are unable to foster children in their own homes for the time being.
The long-term vision of the Children’s Village Advocacy volunteers is to create an emergency safe house—a house where children who must leave their own homes can stay in emergencies, while appropriate long-term placement arrangements are made.
More information about Children’s Village Advocacy’s work, can be found on http://www.JewishFamilyHelp.com.