Dr. Sandie Morgan is joined by Nicole Strattman, the manager for the Resource Families: Recruitment, Development, and Support program in Children and Family Services. In this episode they discuss Resource Parents/Resource Families and why they are important in child welfare.
Nicole has been employed with the County of Orange Social Services Agency (SSA) since 1999. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. She is currently the manager for the Resource Families: Recruitment, Development and Support program in Children and Family Services. Nicole has worked in a variety of programs at SSA which have included assignments investigating child abuse as well as representing SSA in Family Law Court. In 2014, Nicole began working alongside the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force to create an enhanced collaborative response model, treating trafficked children as victims and ensuring the child welfare system had the services to meet the victim’s needs. She is a California Department of Social Services “Above and Beyond” award recipient and has received recognition from California State Senator Ling Ling Chang and California Congresswoman Katie Porter for her commitment to end Human Trafficking and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Nicole was a key advocate in bringing in a therapy dog into youth’s court hearings, which was profiled on local news station, KTLA in Los Angeles as well as the nationally syndicated show CW’s Dogs of the Year. As an expert in the field, she has traveled across the state as a presenter and trainer on CSEC and Human Trafficking as it relates to Child Welfare, where she has trained social workers, victim advocates, mental health practitioners, law enforcement and international delegations from countries, such as Egypt and Vietnam.
- The language of resource parenting came in 2013 and the term aims to emphasize the importance of family homes over group homes or institutionalized living situations.
- The goal of resource parenting is always reunification with the biological parent of the child.
- Care communities are those around resource parents and families, who provide support through volunteering or mentoring, if they cannot house a child themselves.
- Resource parents are important because they provide a stable home and life for a child who is separated from their biological parent.
- Trauma-informed training for resources parents is key to ensure families and individuals can effectively provide care for commercially sexually exploited children.
- Quality Parenting Initiative
- Family Urgent Response System
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Court Appointed Special Advocate
- Hearts in Motion
- Olive Crest
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Sandra Morgan 0:00
You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode 295, “What is the Role of a Resource Parent in Serving Commercially Sexually Exploited Child Victims” with Nicole Strattman. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast here at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice in Orange County, California. This is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today we have my good friend Nicole Strattman with us. Nicole has a master’s in social work. She’s been in child welfare here in Orange County as a social worker for 23 years. She’s the former CSEC coordinator and currently is Administrative Manager for the program for resource families, recruitment, development and support. Nicole, welcome to the podcast. Nicole Strattman 1:26 Yes, thank you Sandie. That is a long title there. But yes, thank you, I’m glad to be here.
Sandra Morgan 1:31
I think your job is bigger than it used to be.
Nicole Strattman 1:35
It certainly has expanded, that is for sure.
Sandra Morgan 1:38
I appreciate so much what you’re doing. We just finished the annual Ensure Justice Conference and our theme was ‘Finding A Way Home.’ One of the problems, we’ve learned over the years, is that placements are very challenging. Even when you have a placement for a victim of child commercial sexual exploitation, the child may not stay in that placement. So, family-based care is going to have a better result. I always thought of child placements through our child welfare program as foster family placements. But now we’re using the language of ‘resource parenting’. Explain how that changed and what a resource parent is?
Nicole Strattman 2:37
Yes, I’d be happy to. So, we had a transition to using that terminology “resource parent” from “foster parent” back in 2013. There was the passing of the Senate Bill 1013 and it was the California Department of Social Services that guided us in changing our approach to working with families who provide care for children in foster care. We have, progressively over the years, had the goal of placing children in relative or close family friends of the child. Somebody that they already had a built in relationship with. And we used to have a separate assessment and approval and licensing process for a relative or family friend, that was different than our foster care licensing process. California Department of Social Services and the Senate Bill said, you know, we really need to have our families who are taking in children all have the same type of training to really understand the unique needs of a child coming to care. The term ‘resource parent’ is not only in California, there’s many states, I don’t have the number though, there are many states across the United States who are using the term ‘resource parent.’ Resource families or resource parents, they include individuals, couples, families. So it’s really open to a wide spectrum of adults who are interested in providing support and a home for children. They can be related, have a mentoring relationship, or no previous relationship at all. That’s sort of the idea of foster parent that we all think of, that they didn’t have a previous relationship. We still encourage those in the community who would like to be a resource parent to an unrelated child to come forward. We really need those homes as well. The purpose of also switching over to resource parent was designed to prioritize family homes over group homes and institutionalized living situations. What that did, again, it expanded our ability to have family friends and relatives of the child approved through a training process. They were equipped to be able to care for the children and those that they’re related to. It’s really to increase the capacity to have children successfully in out-of-home care until they can reunify with their parents, because that’s always our number one goal is to reunify. What the resource parenting process also did is that it allowed a person to become a resource parent and have the ability to adopt if the case were to wind up that way. Prior to this, the adoption process was a whole different set of requirements, and added additional time and additional training. We decided and agreed with CDSS, that it was really best to have all that training up front and along the way, so that if it became a situation that the child in their care was needing a permanent placement, and adoption is the most permanent, that there wasn’t additional hoops to jump through. That they can really provide that permanency much quicker, and have all the training and all the support that’s needed at that point in time.
Sandra Morgan 6:03
So when I’m scanning and listening to speakers talking about rescuing child victims of sex trafficking and people building shelters and programs, we have 20 beds, that can actually not be the best plan for the child, because it can lead to this issue, that you just mentioned, around institutionalization. What would be some of the harms to the child if that’s the strategy that we predominantly use?
Nicole Strattman 6:43
Right, so if we’re putting children in congregate care institutions, they’re not getting that family nurturing environment that we really know that kids and children can thrive on and grow from. They can learn from each other, maybe learn some bad behaviors or bad choices and influences. Teens can influence each other in the best of circumstances. In the circumstance where we have a child that comes from a hard place, and from trauma, and commercial sexual exploitation, it’s even more challenging. When you put those kids together, they can maybe feed off of each other and encourage each other to continue making those bad choices. We really want to put our youth in care, especially our CSEC youth, into a family based environment to provide them with that additional support that they really could benefit from. So this is coming from something that we do here in Orange County where we are a Quality Parenting Initiative County, which means that we really value the role of a caregiver, the biological parent, in the growth and development of that child. They have found that research has demonstrated that children and youth really need consistent and effective parenting to thrive. You just can’t get that type of parenting in an institutional setting. You get that when you have a smaller environment, maybe just a few kids in the home, their siblings, that’s fine, whatever the number are. But, a smaller number of kids in the home, one or two parents that are there to really credit effective parenting to help them really thrive.
Sandra Morgan 8:27
So, I love the research that shows how young people and even adults who grew up in dysfunctional families, they have this natural desire to return to their family roots. Providing support for that family to have a healthy home for a child is going to be preventative, in the long run, for further challenges. But, there are still times when we have to find family based caretakers that are not kinship models, that are not biologically related. We’ve always called them foster parents. Why did we change the name from foster?
Nicole Strattman 9:22
It was really that Senate bill in 2013 that changed that phrasing. Because what we want, is for the families that are providing care, whether they’re relatives or not, to be a resource to other children. We’ve had situations in which we had a person become a resource parent for their own relative kin, and that relative kin reunified home with their family. And that relative adult kin who is now a resource parent, decided this was a good experience. They were able to give back and really help a child in care and have continued to keep their home open for other non-related children to be placed in their home. And so they become a resource, not only for their own family or close family friend that they provided a home for, but now other children in care who need a family based setting, who maybe didn’t have a relative, or family friend that could take them in at that time. So, using the term resource parent really expands our idea of all that they can do.
Sandra Morgan 10:28
And this is a term thats spreading in other states, and I think this model will grow and we’ll see more and more evidence of how effective it is. Let’s talk about why we need more resource parents. It feels like there is a critical shortage of family strength based homes for children who are really on the high end of need for emotional support, for physical support, for mental health issues, not to mention some of the consequences of being trafficked, that are physical as well.
Nicole Strattman 11:20
Yes, we are absolutely in a critical situation where we need many more resource parents for all of our kids in care. Particularly those that come with more complex needs and trauma. I was on a meeting this morning, actually, that had professionals across the United States. The question was posed, “Do you have enough resource parents in your community right now?” And overwhelmingly, everybody in the child welfare profession who was on the call, replied with, “no, no, no.” It was over and over, “We do not have enough.” So we are in critical need right now. We know that kids really do better when they’re in a family based setting. Whenever a child cannot live with their parent, we need another nurturing environment for them to be in. And what we also know that resource parents can do very, very well with is that when we’re partnering with them, when we use QPI model in teaming with resource parents, is they can really be a role model to the biological parent or the guardian who is working towards reunification with that child. They can be that role model, they can set the example, they can do parenting classes in a way, informally, and really provide that structure and support that the biological parent or guardian needs to be able to achieve the goal and do the things that they need to do to provide a safe home for their child to return home to.
Sandra Morgan 12:48
It sounds like you need a lot of patience as you go through this process with resource parents.
Nicole Strattman 12:57
Yes. Yes, everybody needs a lot of patience. It’s challenging to be a resource parent, because there’s many dynamics at work. From caring for a child, to working with the biological family, to also working with the court and the requirements that court has for the child to have appropriate visitation and therapy and extracurricular activities. And so there is a lot of patience and a lot of collaboration between the biological parent, child welfare, the court and the child themselves, on really what we can do to support that child in their healing, while they work towards reunifying back home with their parent.
Sandra Morgan 13:41
So, thinking of how complex that is for the resource parent, what kind of support is available for them when they take on that unbelievable task?
Nicole Strattman 13:53
Yes, so there’s a few different supports that are out there. So in California, there are two ways in which you become a resource parent. You can go directly through the county in which you live to become an approved resource parent, do the required trainings, and have the home inspection, that type of thing. We also have foster family agencies. Those are oftentimes community based organization, nonprofit organizations that also can improve a family to be a resource parent. Whether it’s the county or through a foster family agency, there is an additional support social worker that is available to that resource parent. In a foster family agency, it’s more regular and consistent. Here with the county, we actually have a team of social workers that handle our talk line, we call it our Talk Line. A resource parent can call that talk line and have somebody that’s available to them to talk through the issues they might be having. We also, in California, we have the Family Urgent Response System, or what we call FURS, it is a state wide resource for resource parents and for children in care. If they’re struggling, or have any questions, behavior issues, or just maybe feeling like they don’t know what to do in that moment, and they just need some help, they can contact this phone number, that’s a 24/7 support phone number. They can call or text and request assistance with managing whatever the behavior, which may also include somebody responding in person to their home to help them do some crisis intervention, if that’s needed. We also have resources such as therapy available. We have resources in the community that we connect the children and families with to have ongoing care. We’re very lucky here in California, particularly in Orange County, that we have so many different community based organizations that provide a lot of support to children and families. From parenting, to therapeutic services, to wraparound. We even have the ability to provide wraparound services, which is providing a parent partner and a youth partner and case management to a child in care, the caregiver, and their biological parents as well. Wow. It’s kind of like having a soft landing cushion wrapped around you. Yes, yes, they’re fabulous.
Sandra Morgan 16:35
So how do you become a resource parent?
Nicole Strattman 16:38
To become a resource parent, you first need to attend an orientation. We, in Orange County, have our own orientations and you have to attend an orientation. That’s required per the California Department of Social Services resource family approval process, you have to attend an orientation. We have them here in Orange County on a monthly basis and that begins the process. We, in Orange County, we also like to have a conversation with the folks that do come to our orientation afterwards, to see if they’re ready. One of the things that might make somebody not quite ready for becoming a resource parent, is they’re going to be moving. It seems like we forget about something like that, it’s very exciting, somebody has a great opportunity to move into a new home. But for us, that’s kind of a barrier because we do have to assess the home environment. We have to look at the sleeping arrangements and the bedrooms and the yard, or the town, whatever the makeup of the place is like. So, really an orientation is having a conversation with one of our recruiters about if you’re ready and some of the things that it takes. Also, becoming a resource parent in California, you must complete 12 hours of training before you can have a child placed in your home. And, you have to be CPR and First Aid certified. So we do have a lot of requirements that must take place before a child can be placed in the home. But that’s really to help both sides, make sure the resource family is really ready, to make sure that we have those open lines of communication. Our foster family agencies that also do the same approval process have their own requirements. We all have to have a minimum of 12 hours of training. Some foster family agencies require more, but we all have to have a minimum of 12 hours of training before you can have a child placed in your home.
Sandra Morgan 18:33
Okay, so you said something that often, I’m sitting at the table with a lot of my peers, and I get confused. I understand, I think, about a resource parent, and then here you are, managing resource parents, and then you’re talking about foster parents. So we still have foster parents?
Nicole Strattman 18:50
Did I say foster parents? I may have used that word because we do go back and forth.
Sandra Morgan 18:59
Uh huh. Well, I think the point is that we have a lot of organizations that have foster parent programs, and they haven’t changed the language. So how do we navigate that?
Nicole Strattman 19:13
That’s a really good question. So resource family approval is the process in which, to be able to have a foster child, a child in protective custody to be placed in your home in California, its the resource family approval. Whether you’re a relative, family friend, or unrelated, everybody becomes a resource parent. But, because the term ‘foster parent’ is so much more widely known and still used in some parts, in many parts of the United States, you find that many of us will defer back to that language, because people recognize what that is. We use the term ‘foster’ we realize, “Oh! That must mean somebody who takes care of a child in foster care.” Many agencies still use ‘Foster’, we actually have sort of a tagline that we use in some of our recruiting materials, is “Let’s Foster together!” So we do, still here in the county, will use that terminology. But technically, it’s a resource family. I’m telling you, since 2013, we’re still struggling with that change because we do go back and forth. But it’s been resource family since 2013. It was in 2015-2016, here in Orange County, that we started making those changes.
Sandra Morgan 20:38
Okay, that’s really helpful. And I love hearing that this is a national conversation. And whenever we transition and try to improve circumstances through policy and programs there’s always going to be a learning curve. I have another question. I think for myself, I know that I don’t have the capacity to have a child in my home, and yet at the same time, I want to be helpful. How can someone become a support, but not actually become a caregiver?
Nicole Strattman 21:19
That’s a great question and it’s a common question. We even have a flyer that really kind of goes through if you can’t adopt at the most permanent and engaged level with a child. If you can’t adopt, then foster. If you can’t foster, then mentor. If you can’t mentor, then volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, then advocate, right. There’s so many different sort of levels that you can become involved in for children who are in care currently. From mentoring on a volunteer kind of more casual type of basis, programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCA have some of those kinds of things. But one of my favorite ways to support a child, specifically in foster care, is through court appointed special advocates. Those are volunteers that are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of children that are involved in the juvenile court system because they’re a victim of abuse or neglect. They become very involved in the process that the child is involved in through the foster care system. They will advocate in court via writing in reports or verbally, but also in meetings and really become the voice of a child. So court appointed special advocate or CASA, is a really great way to be able to be a voice for a child throughout this process. Many County and other organizations here in California, and across the United States, have ways through faith, or other non faith communities to partner with their child welfare. We are relaunching our partnership and we’re re-naming it ‘Hearts in Motion’. Isn’t that wonderful?
Sandra Morgan 23:04
Yeah, I love it!
Nicole Strattman 23:06
We’re moving away from ‘Faith in Motion’ because we really want to provide as many open doors as possible for those in the community that may not relate to a faith community, may not belong to a faith community, but they want to do good for children. So we have Hearts in Motion. Again, we had Faith in Motion since 2007, so it’s really going to be the same type of work and partnership where we have some individuals or groups that put together backpacks once a year. But then we have others that put on an event once a month for children in care. Maybe it’s coordinating roller skating one evening for teenagers, and being present for that, having the ability to maybe build a relationship or mentor. We’ve had a situation where we had somebody under that circumstance who was volunteering through their organization to be part of our, now called Hearts in Motion, to work with our teenagers, who built a relationship and was ultimately able to become a resource parent for that youth. So you can start in a kind of lower barrier way of connection with kids and it might evolve to something more. But our Hearts in Motion spectrum of donating something, to spending time with the child, to creating an event. Also, what you could do to support a child, if a child’s not in foster care, is just really being a safe, stable adult in a child’s life. I’ve said that before, when I’ve done presentations, where we all can really make a difference whether it’s neighbor, a niece, a nephew, grandchild. Maybe you’re a coach or a teacher and there’s a child around that you can just be a safe person, a safe adult, someone that will listen and be there for them.
Sandra Morgan 23:07
So I’m a grandma, everybody knows that. So one of the things that I have done in my own family is I see my daughter, and I can tell she needs a break. So I say, “You guys go somewhere, I’m gonna take care of the kids.” Is there a way to be that extended family for a resource parent, where you just give them a weekend off?
Nicole Strattman 25:29
There is a way to do that, yes. If you know of a resource parent in your life, whether you’ve met them through your faith organization or someplace else, you have the ability as a resource parent, like any other parent to decide if you need caretaking. We call that prudent parenting. So you’re allowed to use a prudent parenting mind and determine ‘I know this person, I trust this person. They can babysit, or take care of the child for the weekend.’ That would be okay to do on a prudent parenting decision. I’m so glad you brought this up, though, because we are expanding something here in Orange County. I know it’s been done in some other places and called different things, but we’re calling it Care Communities, which we’re starting with some of our faith based organizations and churches. They have a known resource parent in their congregation and they have additional families in that same congregation that know that resource family, and can be exactly that. They can be that support person, maybe they can bring them food if they’re in a situation where they need food, or help transport to therapy or transport to an extracurricular activity, something like that, or even give that a little bit of a respite break for the caregiver. If we can build those natural supports for resource parent, it’s really good because then they do become that extended family in a way. Just as you are the grandmother, to your grandchild, you know. We also do have respite, though available, where we do have resource parents who are approved, who are specifically available to provide respite, so a week or two at a time, or a weekend or overnight or something like that. We do have people that are approved, as well. But we love the idea of volunteers who can step up and become part of our care communities. We have them participate in some background checks, and some things like that, of course, but they’re really there to support that resource parent. Because we all do need a break. I’m also a mother, and I have a lot of help from my family when I need a break or just need help, because I can’t be everywhere at once.
Sandra Morgan 27:49
So then if I’m thinking about a primary resource parenting situation, is your program going to then be able to support the extended family or family friends, beyond just a background check so that they can babysit? Would there be opportunities for training? Or I’m not even sure what I’m asking.
Nicole Strattman 28:15
Right. We don’t do anything extra for that, not at the county level, but our care communities that we’re kind of formalizing, again, we’re calling it the care community, through a church, they do provide the training. They will provide training and support, yes. So if it’s formalized as a care community. If it’s just a friend, a neighbor, for example, and you’d need a little bit of help after school or something like that for watching the child for a couple of hours here or there, things like that, that’s a prudent parenting decision. But when we are talking something longer and more in depth, then the care community is really the way to go because of that additional training and support that the church will provide. I think we have Olive Crest right now. Olive Crest is a nationwide organization. In Orange County, they’re big supportive care communities. I’m not sure if they’ve expanded beyond Orange County with care communities but they’re an excellent resource for that.
Sandra Morgan 29:09
I love that. I’m very aware of their work and appreciate it as well. I have learned so much. And I will put links in the show notes to a lot of the resources that you’ve mentioned. I’m grateful this is expanding nationwide, but can a foster youth be adopted?
Nicole Strattman 29:31
I’m so glad that you asked that. This comes up a lot. Because oftentimes it’s referred to as the ability to be able to adopt. While foster children can be adopted, in most cases, the goal is going to be reunification, to really return that youth back to the care of the biological family or to the legal guardians. However, oftentimes, it does happen where reunification cannot occur. Perhaps the parent was unable to achieve what was required of them per the court orders. Then, we are really looking for permanency and the most permanent home for a child is through adoption. So it is possible, it is possible. That does provide the most permanency, but our number one goal here in child welfare, and this is across the United States, is for reunification. But we always do ask a resource parent, should things not work out, do you have the ability? And it’s okay, if somebody doesn’t. It’s okay if somebody doesn’t. But if they can, then we make note of that, just in case.
Sandra Morgan 30:39
Wow, I am so grateful for the work that you’re doing and I want to say your title again, because it covers a wide scope. So you are the Administrative Manager for our child welfare program for resource families, recruitment, development, and support. I think that mission is like wrapping a soft blanket around a child so that they feel safe. Last opportunity before we have to sign off because our time is up. What do you want our community to know about why resource parents are so important?
Nicole Strattman 31:30
I want them to know that resource parents are so important because we need to have a safe family home for our children until they’re ready to go back to their own biological home or their legal guardian’s home, wherever they came from. We are really there to support the caregiver in this process. We want to work together as a team, support the child, to support the family, and to be able to move our children out of congregate care. We, in Orange County, have very few of our kids that are in congregate care. It’s not a great majority by any means, but really one or two, is too many, right. And so if we can get more of our kids into a family based setting to support not only the child, but the family which they come from, I think we will see more success in our children in the long run.
Sandra Morgan 32:24
Thank you so much, Nicole Strattman. I am very excited about seeing this kind of model expand. I know in a previous episode we talked about the consequences of institutional care in big orphanages in other countries. So this is a growing movement to address that issue by building stronger models of family based care. So I’m inviting you to take the next step as a listener of this podcast. Go over to our website, endinghumantrafficking.org and follow up. Find the resources we’ve mentioned in this conversation. Learn more about our Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate program. Find the links to our recent conference, Ensure Justice: Finding a Way Home at the Global Center for Women and Justice. And of course, I’m looking forward to our next conversation in two weeks. Bye everybody.