The Department of State contacted me, as president of the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA), requesting a meeting with a delegation of child welfare and adoption professionals visiting from Bulgaria. Plans are underway in this small Eastern European country to “deinstitutionalize” all children by 2020. They hope to accomplish this goal by expanding family preservation services, creating a foster care system, and strengthening adoption programs. Currently, more than 7,000 Bulgarian children are living in orphanages; more than a third are under the age of three years; the remaining two-thirds are between the ages of three and 18.
The four delegates and two interpreters spent three weeks in the United States, visiting Washington, DC, Seattle, Denver, and Austin. The delegation was welcomed to the Lutheran Social Services office in Austin on April 14th, where we proceeded to share an incredible amount of information. Official titles of our visitors:
· Chairperson, Association for International Adoption and Reintegration;
· Department Chief, International Child Protection and International Adoption, Ministry of Justice;
· Director, State Agency for Child Protection; and
· Deputy Minister, Ministry of Labor and Social Policy
The visit to the United States was designed to provide these visitors with a comprehensive look at child welfare and family social services in the United States. The Department of State specifically requested that we discuss foster parent associations (local, state and national), recruitment and retention of foster parents, supports and services important to foster parents, and how to serve children with disabilities or significant medical needs in foster family homes.
The Department of State outlined these objectives:
· Explore government and non-government organizations that provide services to ensure the welfare of children and families in the United States;
· Visit innovative child welfare programs that offer targeted assistance and produce positive outcomes for children in tenuous circumstances; and
· Examine aspects of domestic and international adoption processes in the United States, including accreditation of agencies, family home studies and background checks, judicial proceedings, and aftercare following adoptions.
Konnie Gregg and Phyllis Christensen, LSS international adoption coordinators, also met with the delegation to discuss international adoption and foster family care for children with disabilities.
Overall, I feel the meeting was instructive for everyone and very successful. The delegates left with gifts from NFPA, insight into the challenges and reward s of our foster care system, and some new friends in Austin.
Irene Clements, LSS vice president for Advocacy, Child and Family Services, is president of the NFPA Board of Directors and current president of the Texas Foster Family Association (TFFA). She and her husband Bill fostered 127 children over a span of 27 years.