NFPAN gives foster parents voice with legislative plan

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Foster parents address shared concerns about the Nebraska foster care system at the March 24 NFPAN meeting. (Photo taken by Dafnis Delgado)

by Juli Oberlander

Wherever Bobby Loud went, he found foster parents just like him. Whether he was at the movie theater or the grocery store, Loud encountered foster parents who struggled to receive resources and support from foster care agencies.

Loud had always thought he was alone in his trials as a foster parent in need of advocacy from local agencies. Over the past five years, Loud has served as a parent to about 10 foster children. Loud, now a foster parent of two 11-year-old boys, says change is necessary for foster parents to support youth in their care.

In January 2017, Loud founded the Nebraska Foster Parent Advocacy Network (NFPAN). After connecting with other foster parents, Loud initiated a spring legislative plan to advocate for Nebraska legislature bills that help parents and their children. Loud and his colleagues plan to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to lobby and share information with state legislators on child welfare committees.

The objective is to support bills in committee that propose foster care reform and better out-of-home placement for foster children. As NFPAN’s network coordinator, Loud says foster care reform can start with legislative change.

“We’re not trying to change everything,” Loud says. “It is a huge system. But if we can impact families and the youths in a positive way, it will give me great satisfaction.”

Loud says NFPAN works with various agencies that advocate for foster care reform. Some of its key partners include Nebraska Appleseed, the National Foster Parent Association and other nonprofit organizations that support foster children.

Another important partner is ReConnect, Inc., an Omaha nonprofit that helps at-risk youth including foster children. NFPAN holds its monthly meetings at Reconnect, Inc.’s facility at 42nd and Center Streets. NFPAN also works with ReConnect, Inc. to advocate for parents and youth.

“It’s about providing resources and pointing a finger in the right direction,” Loud says. “It’s about just listening. If we can provide better care and consistency to youth, that’s another take-away.”

Loud says legislative change needs to happen in terms of agencies’ high caseloads. Often, one staff member handles youth cases, and agencies are not able to meet every child’s needs. When that happens, agencies often displace children.

Displaced children often experience behavioral issues. These problems can cause the state to put foster parents on hold, which often leads to investigations.

Loud says this problem affects the entire foster care system from agencies to community centers and schools.

“It has been challenging and revealing to see how complex out-of-home reform is,” Loud says. “Advocacy might be a small word but it is a difficult word. You can get resistance, but we’re up to the challenge.”

As NFPAN works to initiate legislative change, Loud says he realizes the importance of normalcy for foster children. Having the same experiences as other children leads to lower levels of stress for the youth and their parents.

NFPAN’s goals for its legislative plan are to support bills that help foster children meet their personal, treatment and academic goals. Support from legislators will allow foster parents to more effectively advocate for their children and themselves in the future.

Amadi Watts is a foster parent with the goal of improving Nebraska foster care. Watts, the foster parent liaison for NFPAN, says he hopes the organization can provide further resources to foster parents through its initiatives.

“It’s been a journey,” Watts says. “We’re hoping for the best because there’s nothing else out there like this. It’s very much needed.”

Like Loud, Watts has welcomed about 10 foster children into his home. Watts, who currently cares for one 9-year-old, says NFPAN’s legislative initiative seeks to help guardians and caregivers in addition to foster parents.

“It’s powerful to be in a position to help children,” Watts said. “We have a lot in common due to our willingness to provide to children who are at risk.”

Watts says NFPAN’s tagline, “stronger together,” is indicative of the organization’s mission to help foster parents and other caregivers support youth.

Loud says NFPAN can empower foster parents through its legislative and community outreach initiatives.

“Foster parents as individual people can feel very powerless and limited,” Loud says. “However, when there is that commonality of interests, that’s where it starts clicking. We really are stronger together.”

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