Opinion: Big dreams for children in foster care

As a CPA by profession, I’ve never been much of a dreamer.  I’ve spent most of my professional career as a technician, focused on often minute details.

Taking over the helm of Arizona Helping Hands, an organization that has rapidly become the largest provider of basic needs to the 19,000-plus boys and girls in foster care in Arizona has taught me to dream.  I dream of the myriad benefits that we could provide to these children who have experienced such trauma at a time of their life that should be carefree and filled with joy.

Dan Shufelt

Dan Shufelt

Some of my dreams have been fulfilled.  We thought it would be wonderful if children in foster care could be given a SAFE PLACE to sleep at night.  Arizona Helping Hands will do just that for 2,000 children in 2016.  We thought making birthdays special for boys and girls in foster care would be a marvelous idea – 1,000 kids will receive BIRTHDAY DREAM gift packages this year.

We dreamt of making it easier for a caring family to become a licensed foster home – we now provide first aid kits as a start to making that happen.  Seeing some of these dreams take shape has been extremely gratifying.

However, there remains so much more that could be done for these kids.  We meet families every day who are unaware of the resources that exist to make their lives easier.  We know of and collaborate with other agencies to do all we can to help ease the burdens of children, and of the relatives and non-licensed caregivers who open their hearts and their homes to make kids lives better.

Hence, the next dream – wouldn’t service for these children be improved if agencies whose focus is to assist children in foster care were in one location?  A single point of entry where a foster family could receive a bed their child could sleep on, necessary items to make the home safe (and to meet foster licensing requirements), birthday gifts for that special day and more.

Upon picking these items up, a family could visit with a foster licensing specialist to learn how to become licensed and qualify for state support.  They could meet with Arizona Friends of Foster Children to sign children up for dance lessons or sports activities.  They could interact with a representative from the Department of Child Safety to resolve concerns raised through dealings with their caseworker.  Additionally, families could participate in group training sessions, and many other services could be included in this holistic approach to serving the foster care population.

Multiple agencies have stepped forward indicating a desire to participate in such a solution.  As leaders of foster care organizations we all recognize the benefits that could be achieved through synergy, while eliminating duplication in our service provisions.

Dreams aren’t always easy to achieve.  This dream may be beyond the capacity of a small charity striving to make a difference.  We’ve been told it will take tens of thousands of dollars just to begin the process of creating a marketing campaign and formulating strategies to introduce this concept to major funders.

Perhaps I dream too large. I fervently hope that is not the case.

I recently wrote a blog post about Aunt Talisha and Uncle Jonathan.  They visited AHH to receive beds and other supplies for two nephews who were dropped on their doorstep.  They were so grateful to learn that an organization existed that could assist them and the boys at a time when they truly needed some help.  They came to us frazzled by the responsibilities that were thrust upon them.

The title of my piece was “We have never had children, overnight we have two, and we’re terrified!”  This should not be the case for families that #StandUp to be a ray of hope for children in need.  We helped Talisha and Jonathan with everything we could and then pointed them to other community resources. It would have been so much more effective if those resources were intertwined.

To send them down the hall to receive immediate assistance could have had an immediate benefit and relieved significant stress.  Instead we sent them on their way with multiple websites to search, or phone numbers to call, in hope of finding answers.

We recently received a thank you note at Arizona Helping Hands that stated, “Thanks to AHH, two young girls dream of being princesses on their new comfortable beds.” That’s two more dreams fulfilled, but a much bigger one looms outside our current reach for 19,000 kids and their families.

If you’d like to join an email communication list to stay up to date on the status of “Dream BIG With AHH”, send your email contact to Dreamcatcher@azhelpinghands.org.

Learn about Arizona Helping Hands and HOW YOU CAN HELP at http://www.azhelpinghands.org/can-help/. Contact the writer at dshufelt@azhelpinghands.org and read more of Dan’s blogposts at http://www.azhelpinghands.org/blog­post/

Editor’s note: Dan Shufelt is president and CEO of Arizona Helping Hands in Scottsdale.

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