Pathways Youth and Family Services to host foster care orientation on monthly basis

Representatives from Pathways made an appearance at a Pride event in San Antonio earlier this summer. The agency is one of few in Texas that allows for same sex couples to become foster parents.

Pathways Youth and Family Services, a Richardson-based foster care agency, is  expanding its direct coverage to Kaufman County beginning with an orientation for residents who wish to learn more about foster care on Thursday, Sept. 12.

While Pathways is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers a variety of services across Texas, the Richardson office covering Kaufman focuses specifically on foster care and offering services to foster families. The agency is also responsible for training and licensing those who wish to become foster parents.

Groups like Pathways are the only ones in the state that address foster care; although Texas does offer a monthly stipend to foster families, the state has no statewide agency to handle the 27,000 foster children in the state. This has resulted in more than 200 nonprofit foster agencies handling foster care across Texas. Of these agencies, Pathways Youth and Family Services is one of the largest; at any given time the agency has 450 to 500 children in its program, though that’s still only a dent in the 4,000 foster children in the DFW area alone.

Without a statewide agency, the importance of nonprofits like Pathways is paramount to foster children and their families across Texas. 

These agencies employ family specialists who take care of court cases related to foster children because many come from families with histories of abuse or neglect. The agencies also support families with necessary resources like transportation, healthcare and childcare.

As private organizations, these agencies can set their own rules about who they choose to allow to become foster parents through them. Pathways is one of the few agencies in the state that will take any family regardless of marital status, religious background or sexual orientation. According to the agency’s community engagement specialist and trainer Keeley McBee, this is an important factor that sets Pathways apart and helps the group put a dent in Texas’ foster population and connect those children with loving families.

“We feel if you can take care of a child and give them a safe and loving environment, we’re happy to take you on as a family,” McBee said.

McBee knows how to distinguish those environments firsthand; not only has she worked in foster care for the last five years, she also grew up in a household with three foster children all of whom are now her younger siblings. Her family’s experience with foster care helped push her toward her current career path and now she’s doing what she can to expand the reach of the Richardson office to a wider swath of Northeast Texas.

“If you told me that I had to come from Denton down to Richardson at 6:30 at night for an orientation, I’m going to look at you like, ‘No thank you,’” McBee said. “It’s the same thing for Kaufman. We now have orientations in Kaufman, Denton, Arlington, Ft. Worth, and Cedar Hill as well as Richardson. This is our first time branching out to hold orientations in the community just to remove another barrier for people so they can go somewhere in their local community to learn about foster care; it doesn’t have to be an hour-and-a-half trip.”

In order to become a successful foster family, McBee explains, orientation is an important step. It’s a time for potential parents to learn the subtleties of the foster system in Texas as well as learn about the agency’s processes and staff and ask questions covering a broad range of topics. The orientations are strictly informational; there is no commitment associated. But McBee hopes that by expanding Pathways’ coverage area and hosting these meetings, more families will be willing to take foster children of their own. That’s why her plan is to make these orientations monthly occurrences.

One of McBee’s favorite things about orientations is the ability for her and other members of the Pathways staff to burst myths about foster care. One of the most common ones she hears is that it’s legally impossible for parents to adopt foster children into their own families, a falsehood McBee can discount from personal experience.

“It’s actually one of the best ways if you’re looking to grow your family whether it’s your first time being a parent or you’re adding to the sibling group,” McBee said. A lot of people think if they’re going to adopt they need to do an international adoption, which is very expensive; it can be $30,000 or $40,000 to adopt one child internationally. Here not only does the state cover your adoption costs, there’s also incentives to adopt. You can keep the medicare that every child is on, Star Health, so everything is covered through that insurance. There’s also an incentive to go to college for free in Texas. Any child who is over the age of six or is part of a sibling group can go to any public university in Texas for free. Those are huge incentives to adopt locally.”

McBee is also eager to quash unsubstantiated rumors about the age range of most foster children. A common misconception is that the majority are teenagers, and while there certainly are children as old as 17 in the foster care system, the majority of the children at Pathways are five years old or younger.

While mythbusting is an important part of orientation, McBee is also hopeful that by expanding Pathways’ coverage area, the agency will by proxy extend the number of foster parents across Northeast Texas. Not only is this an inherently important process for matching foster children with parents and families, in some cases it also allows for those children to stay in or near their original communities.

“One of the things we try to do is keep the children in the community that they grew up in,” McBee said. “Unfortunately, the way the system works, when you come into foster care you’re ripped away from everything you know. The school you went to, the neighbors you had, maybe an aunt or uncle that lived down the street. But if we can keep maybe the local park or the local library, maybe even their same elementary or middle school the same, we would love to do that. Every opportunity that we have to find families throughout the Dallast/Ft. Worth community is very important. That’s another reason why we’re very excited to be able to go out to Kaufman and hopefully find some Kaufman families who are willing to step up.”

While McBee is interested in encouraging as many potential foster parents as possible to come through Pathways regardless of their marital status or religious background, there are important requirements that provide a barrier to entry for some. Chiefly among them are related to financials and housing. Pathways doesn’t have concrete income requirements, but it does require that parents have the ability to provide appropriate housing and are financially stable.

“We need our foster parents to be able to provide for themselves before taking on a foster child,” McBee said. “That looks different for everyone. It doesn’t mean at the end of the month you need to have $5,000 left over; it just means you can take care of your bills without relying on the stipend a foster child brings in.”

But for those who are able, Pathways offers a faster trip than most agencies to become a foster parent. While a training regimen is required for anyone to become a foster parent, Pathways’ expedited schedule is able to accomplish in weeks what other agencies take months to complete.

“Something that’s very unique about Pathways is our training schedule,” McBee said. “We can get foster parents trained in a matter of two weekends. You come in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, finish up one set of classes, the next weekend it’s a Friday night and a Saturday, and you are done with all of the training you need to do.”

McBee hopes that by spreading Pathways’ coverage area and engaging with more families who are interested in becoming foster parents, she will be able to communicate the benefits that go along with such a life-changing decision not only for the children themselves, but for the parents as well.

“There’s a community that comes with it within your agency, within your organization who understand exactly what you’re going through,” McBee said. “There are definitely hard moments; there are moments that will test you to the limit. But if you’re looking for a group of people to connect with a completely different level, become a foster parent. You will find friends and support like never before because you will really need it. For parents who are using this to grow their family, they are getting to experience for the first time being a mom or a dad and that is really cool. It really grows you and expands you as a person to do things you never would have thought about doing.”

But as beneficial as the foster process can be for the parents, the greatest beneficiaries are the children themselves, many of whom have experienced tragedy and neglect, who just want to have the experience of a core family that, McBee argues, every child should have.

“There are a bunch of mental health reasons why having a family setting is important in a child’s development and in their life,” McBee said. “We’ve had six and seven-year-olds who are the main caretakers for their two or three younger siblings. Now they finally get to have some sort of parental unit, whatever that looks like, take care of them and so they get to just be a child. Having foster parents who are hooked up in their community who want to go to the library to let them pick out their favorite book, who are engaged in what they’re learning about in school and help them with homework, it’s things that a lot of us who grew up in a traditional family took for granted, but it’s so important for these children to be able to experience, mostly for the first time.”

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