Every social worker will tell you that the goal of child welfare interventions is to maintain or return a child to a safe, loving home with their family of origin or an adoptive family. And for many children, that does happen. But what happens to those who can’t go home again?

Aspire’s Permanency Program provides foster care to a diverse group of children with significant mental health and developmental challenges who are unable to remain with their families.

Adverse childhood events and trauma can lead to extreme disruptive behaviors that most families can’t manage on their own. The vast majority of children with this level of need remain in foster care until adulthood. Many of them have never experienced an adult who could stand by them during their most difficult days.

Lily was one of those children. She was abandoned in an orphanage in China and adopted at age 12 by a U.S. family that was ultimately unable to meet her needs. When placed in foster care through Aspire, she joined a family focused on belonging and seeing underneath all the fear and rebellion. They never gave up.

Michael AuYang, Director of Clinical and Permanency Services, notes “I think we often forget the importance of foster parents’ resilience. Resilience is the capacity to recover from stress and continue to do what needs to be done.” Aspire clinicians and staff stood behind Lily’s foster parents to ensure they had the tools to carry on. Their love and stability gave Lily room to begin healing, and Lily is now a college graduate starting her career as an accountant. 

Cultural competence and the right match are important for all children to build that lasting bond with a foster parent. For children of color, that competence and match are especially critical. Foster parent Linda Jackson says, “My parents are African American and I come from a strict background in some ways…. Not everyone understands the life of a black child. My job is to get them prepared for the real world. Raising a black child in America is different from a white kid, even if they have the same trauma. The black kid when he walks out the door is seen as dangerous. I can talk about the best way to support a young black man with my case manager who is black.”

Aspire’s goal is to create a safe and supportive home life that empowers each young person to thrive, grow, and participate actively in their community. Young people who transition into adulthood without a safety net can end up in unstable living situations, or homeless, struggling with drugs or crime. Aspire’s program has a strong record of stability among our foster families, and many become lifelong natural supports.

Foster parent Carmen Ayala has fostered several girls: “When they turn 18, they want to go on their own. I always stay involved, to help them get housing and connect them to resources in the community. They come back for the holidays. Staying in touch, you’re able to be their support system, and also see their success. They all have their special characteristics and positive things they have done. Sometimes it’s managing their mental health or their relationships better, or getting a good job. One went to college. One is a really good mom.”

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When You Can’t Go Home Again