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Hashgacha Pratis In Foster Care

By: Tzivy Ross  

I am often asked about my job working in Ohel’s foster care department: "isn’t it difficult work? How can you stand seeing little children who have been hurt through no fault of their own, how can you handle being exposed to such sadness and pain? Don’t you find it depressing?" The truth is that while this work can be extremely intense, it can also be incredibly hopeful and inspiring. 

In our program we have seen that for every little boy who has been made to cry too many times in his young life, there is a sensitive and loving foster family who has reached out to soothe his tears. For every family who has been overwhelmed and unable to cope without resorting to behaviors that are hurtful to their children, there is another family who is ready to support and assist them until they learn to better manage their problems and more effectively meet their children’s needs. For every weakness there is a corresponding strength, and for every glimpse of pain and sadness there is glimmer of hope and happiness that is waiting right around the corner. 

In our work we have also been fortunate to strongly feel our role as shlichim in providing for those in need in the Jewish community. As such, we have been able to perceive on many occasions the hashgacha that guides us in making responsible decisions toward the benefit of the children and families that we serve. Typically, when a child is placed into foster care by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, Ohel is given a very brief period of time, with little information available, to find a suitable foster home for that child. It is in these situations especially that we have at times merited to glimpse the hand of Hashem guiding us in our work. The following are true stories of hashgacha pratis which have occurred within Ohel's foster care department; identifying information has been changed. 

The Accidental Placement 
One memorable placement of a child occurred at 2:00 in the morning. Information available on a child’s background and his or her needs at this time of the night can be quite limited. We were told that there was a boy, aged 11, who was being removed from his parents care because of allegations of physical abuse. The child attended school in Staten Island and needed to be placed in Staten Island. 

When placing a child it is very important to take into account geographical location, family composition of the foster home, gender and approximate age of the child requested by foster parents. Additionally, other factors such as behavioral and emotional issues of the child must be considered in matching a child to a family who could best meet his or her needs. At 2:00 in the morning, the only meaningful information available in making this placement was the child’s gender, age, location and a generalized reason for placement. Based on that information, we decided to call a family in Staten Island who based on their family composition had requested a boy in the range of 9 - 13 years old. However, when we looked at the foster parent master list, which is a detailed listing of foster parents that Ohel’s homefinding department uses at all time to determine appropriate placements, we noticed that the identification #’s which recognize foster families as New York State certified foster families were blurred and not legible on several foster families on the list. That had absolutely never happened before, nor since. Without that information to identify a foster family, the City would not accept placement of a child into that specific foster home. On account of the lateness of the hour there did not seem to be any alternative but to contact a family whose identification # was clear. The decision was made to contact a family in Queens who had requested a slightly younger child, and they agreed to accept him temporarily. We believed that we could transfer the child to another family in Staten Island the next day when we could clarify the ID #’s. 

The next day, the Administration for Children’s Services worker from the City gave us new information on this child which had very different implications. She informed us that while this child was enrolled in a school in Staten Island, he had only been attending school for 2 days. His family had just moved into his grandparents home in Staten Island, but they were originally from Queens. His previous school and all his friends were from Queens. The child himself was very happy to have been sent to live in a foster home in Queens and had settled in quickly. His foster family attached to him immediately and even though they ideally had preferred a younger child, they agreed to keep him for as long as he needed to stay in foster care. 

We always believed that this child was sent exactly where he was supposed to go. He ultimately remained in foster care for one year’s time at this family’s home until he was discharged back home to his parent’s care last year. He and his birth parents maintain contact with this foster family to this day. 

Keeping Siblings Together 
A very difficult dilemma that we are often placed with at Ohel is decisions regarding placing sibling groups into foster homes. Placing brothers and sisters together into the same foster home provides them with some comfort and familiarity in a time of great trauma and confusion. At all times we attempt to keep siblings together; however this is not always possible when there are large sibling groups. On one occasion, four very young children from the same family had to be placed into foster care. We repeatedly tried to get information to determine the children’s relationships to one another so that we could place them in groups of two according to their attachments to one another. However, the worker from the city who would have been able to speak with the children and observe their interaction to garner this information was inaccessible and the placement worker who contacted Ohel simply did not know. 

Absent any meaningful information, we had to make our own determination as to which children to keep together and which to separate. When there is little information available on sibling groups, we often unite the children nearest in age because we assume they are most likely to be one another’s closest playmates. However, we did not want to do this because the two youngest children were very close in age and we believed this would place too much of a burden on the foster parents. We had heard that the oldest child in the family, a girl, was quite parentified and had assumed the parent-like caregiver role in the family. We therefore did not want to place her with the baby of the family because we did not want her to assume responsibility for the baby’s care. According to this reasoning, we placed the oldest girl with her second-to-youngest sibling in one foster home, and the baby was placed with the second to oldest child in another foster home. 

What eventually occurred is that when the children arrived at their respective foster homes, the oldest child kept exclaiming, "they listened, they listened." She explained that she was extremely close with the brother that she had been placed with, and that she had kept asking that she be able to go with him to the same foster home. She was extremely happy that "they listened" and she was together with the brother that she was closest to and wanted most of all to placed with. We always felt that someone definitely listened to this little girl’s request and the hashgacha was quite apparent in helping us to arrive at the right decision in a rather inadvertent way. 

Sisters in Chesed 
There exists a critical shortage of foster families available who are willing to care for adolescents. For this reason we were very happy when a prospective foster family initiated the process to become certified as foster parents specifically to care for adolescent foster children. While we were very impressed with this family, the parents seemed to be unsure about completing their certification as the inherent responsibilities of foster parenting seemed overwhelming to them. We made several attempts to address their concerns and we invited them to join our final orientation session with several other foster families. They declined to attend and we had no alternative but to inform them that we would have to close their application as we could not keep it open indefinitely without further movement. 

The following day the prospective foster mother contacted us unexpectedly and told us that she and her family now felt ready to commit to being foster parents at Ohel. She explained that she had received a telephone call from her sister the evening before. Unbeknownst to one another, she and her sister had independently applied to become foster parents at Ohel at exactly the same time. Her sister had just attended the final orientation session at Ohel and had completed her certification. Her sister felt extremely positive about her experience, was very enthusiastic about becoming a foster parent and was now confident enough to share her news with her family. The two sisters together encouraged one another and decided to support one another towards achieving the same goal. 

Both of these sisters are now certified Ohel foster parents. Each sister with her family currently provides a loving and warm foster home to an adolescent foster child, all because of timing, shared convictions and a fair amount of hashgacha pratis. 

These are just a few of many examples of the hashgacha that we have been fortunate to witness in our work at Ohel. May we always be zoche to see the hand of Hashem which is so evident in all we do if only we are able to recognize it. 

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