It’s time to say good-bye to 2017 and look ahead with bright-eyed hope and energy to 2018! At Amara, our hopes and plans for 2018 are, as always, for children in foster care and the families who care for them.

There’s a lot we can do together to improve the well-being of children entering and experiencing foster care, as well as children who have been adopted. We invite you to join us on this journey—there are so many ways to participate: volunteer, donate, attend an event, spread the word, or become a foster parent!

Our hopes for 2018:

1. Narrow the gap. We need to address the disparity between the number of African-American children in foster care and the number of African-American foster families.

In Washington state, black children are overrepresented in the foster care system. Sixteen percent of children in foster care are black but only 6.5 percent of foster families are black. And while Amara supports transracial foster care and adoption, there is evidence to show that children thrive best in families who share their cultural/racial background. We’d like to learn more about how to grow the number of African-American foster families.

To that end, Amara is building relationships and having ongoing conversations with our local black community through our “It Takes A Village: Caring for our Community’s Black Kids” initiative. We look forward to how these efforts will evolve in the coming year to better support African-American kids in foster care.

2. Create Stability. Ensuring smooth transitions and fewer moves are two ways to create more stability for children in foster care.

When children in foster care are moved to many different homes, the lack of stability and constant unknowns compound the trauma they’ve already experienced. Unfortunately, the crisis-level lack of foster homes often makes these frequent changes inevitable.

At Amara, our goal is to provide children with a soft landing: consistency and predictability until they can safely return to their birth family or a long-term foster family is found. We are proud of the work we are doing to create this more stable experience for children through our two Emergency Sanctuaries which offer a home-like environment for children who have been removed from their homes for their own safety. In 2018 we will continue this work and hope to see this model spread and thrive in every county in Washington state.

3. Spark Change. Support foster families and children in foster care by engaging the community in caring for our community’s most vulnerable children and shifting the conversation about being a foster parent.

In 2018, our goal is to engage our entire community in a different conversation about children in foster care and the families that care for them through a new initiative: Project Gratitude. We want to get everyone—from businesses, schools, and community groups to everyday folks—to not just see foster families differently, but to play an active role in supporting them. Stay tuned for more!

4. Strengthen Connections. It’s important for children’s well-being to ensure that children in foster care maintain connections with their family, relatives and community of origin.

When children are removed from their parents’ home, they leave behind much more than a house and a parent – often they are leaving everyone and everything familiar to them. We believe that, when possible, it is best for children to maintain relationships with their parents, extended family, teachers, and others in their community while they are in foster care. Over half of all children in foster care are reunified with their families.

Amara families receive training and education to assist them in supporting this crucial aspect of a child’s identity and support system during a difficult time. We are committed to strengthening our services so that children in foster care, foster families, and families of origin are supported in maintaining these critically important connections!

5. Challenge injustice. Let’s work to keep children out of foster care in the first place.

In 2018 we’d like to see fewer children enter foster care for preventable reasons. Over 80 percent of children who enter foster care do so for reasons related to neglect. Yet these reasons are most often connected to poverty. For example, poverty can sometimes prevent families from providing key aspects of safety such as smoke alarms and car seats.

Amara is proud to provide Concrete Goods to families involved in many DSHS programs on behalf of the State of Washington. Based on caseworker verified needs, these kind of items – and installation help if needed – are provided to families needing a little extra support to be the best parents to their children. And, as our African-American outreach initiative seeks to do, we will also work to tackle the systemic racism and injustice that leads to an over-representation of black kids in foster care.

+ a Bonus Hope: Find More Foster Families. You can help increase the number of families ready to open their homes to children in foster care.

Amara’s efforts to find and prepare foster families for children who need them will continue to be a strong focus in 2018. We hope to find more loving and committed families for children in foster care—for as long as each child needs.

We want people to know that being a foster parent is more inclusive than many people think. You do not have to be rich or live in a fancy house. You don’t need to be married or be a certain religion or sexual orientation. Kids in foster care need a loving, safe, and stable family committed to their well-being!

Spread the word or learn more about becoming a foster parent for a child in your community who needs you.

Our efforts toward these hopes will last much longer than the next 12 months. But we look forward to improving the lives of our community’s most vulnerable children in just one year, in partnership with all of you.

featured image, Happy New Year is a creative commons licensed image by NSiddhu