Anyone who has lived in the District for a while likely has had to deal with the exasperating city government bureaucracy. This might have been waiting for hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew a driver’s license or navigating a phone-prompt maze to find a missing tax refund or waiting days for a snow plow to clear a street. But my husband and I recently had the opposite experience when we were unexpectedly pulled into the city’s foster-care system.
We were amazed at the speed, caring and professionalism of the social workers and others who work at the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). The staff members we encountered repeatedly went above and beyond the call of duty to help some of the most needy children in our city.
Four months ago, I was out with friends on a Saturday evening when I received a call from CFSA about a colleague’s 6- and 8-year-old girls, who had been taken into emergency foster care. I was invited to a meeting to be held at 10 a.m. the following day to find a home for the children. On Sunday morning, after two hours of consultation with a few relatives of the children and me, it was decided that my home was the best option. By 3 p.m., CFSA had completed a fingerprint and background check on my husband and me. At 5 p.m., our home was being inspected by a social worker. By 9 p.m., the two girls were in our house, safe and sound, with people they knew cared about them.
Throughout the 3½ months that the girls lived with us, the staff of CFSA was in constant touch with us to check on the girls — and us. They kept us abreast of the mother’s situation, inspected our house every three weeks and made sure the girls maintained their relationships with their mother and grandparents by taking them on regular visits.
To become a licensed foster family, we were required to enroll in a five-week class designed to help foster families cope with the sudden arrival of new children, deal with birth parents who were unable to care for their children and access the many support services provided by the agency. We were one of the more fortunate families taking part in our session. The girls’ mother was quickly making progress, and it was expected that they would soon be able to return to her care. Many of the other foster parents we met were caring for grandchildren, cousins, nieces and nephews or a friend’s children. In many cases, they had taken on a long-term or permanent responsibility in place of birth parents who were absent, incarcerated or deceased. One man with five grown children was raising 10-month-old twins. A couple who had been about to enjoy the freedom of retirement instead welcomed their 6-year-old nephew into their home. A single man in his thirties was caring for his niece. And a young college student stepped in when no other family member would care for her cousin — putting her college education on hold.
These generous people and the staff of CFSA took responsibility for these children when no one else would. We in the Jewish faith call such action a mitzvah, a good deed that will never be repaid. They all have renewed my pride in being a Washingtonian.