Kin and Foster Caregivers are the heart of Vermont’s Family Services Division. Join Janine Beaudry from VT-CWTP as she explores how strong, positive partnerships between kinship and foster caregivers can support safety and wellbeing for children and within families. You’ll hear from 3 women who, in their very different roles, worked together to give a child, whom we’ll call “L”, and his family the best support possible.
Janine Beaudry MSW is a parent (in some form or another) of 5, ages 25-8. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work, has been working to support the safety and wellbeing of children and families for over 20 years. During 11 of those years, Janine was a Family Services assessment and investigation worker, then as a supervisor for adoptions and Central Intake and Emergency Services. Janine is currently a Training & Coaching Specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership.
Sloane and Tyler Prescott are licensed foster parents and L is the first child they have fostered. Sloane and Tyler have been taking care of L for most of his life, along with their 6 yo and 4 yo daughters. Tyler, who was unable to join our conversation today, is also a hospital pharmacist. Sloane was also a teacher before becoming a stay-at-home parent 3 years ago.
Crystal Costella is L’s maternal great-aunt and has known L all his life. She’s also been close with L’s birth mom her whole life. Crystal became a formal respite care provider so she could take care of L sometimes, and so that she could support long weekend family time with L and his birth mom. Crystal also has two daughters, ages 12 and almost 4, and works for a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Julie Koslowski is a veteran Family Services Worker who has been supporting child and family safety and wellbeing in that role for 20 years. During that time, she’s developed a passion for bridging foster and birth families in support of the children they care for because doing so brings people together and leads to better outcomes.
Cassie Gillespie (00:02):
Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie. And you’re listening to Welcome to the Field, a podcast for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. Today, Janine Beaudry, will be bringing you a special conversation that digs into great partnerships between Ken and foster caregivers. Take it away. Janine,
Janine Beaudry (00:21):
Thanks Cassie. I’m Janine Beaudry. And at the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership, I’m a training and coaching specialist for kin foster and adoptive caregivers. Today’s podcast highlights how strong, positive partnerships between kinship and foster caregivers can support safety and wellbeing for children. And within families. You’ll hear from three women who in their very different roles work together to give a child whom we’ll call El and his family, the best support possible. El is a one-year-old boy. And from what I hear, he’s the cutest little guy around. As a matter of fact, I just saw a picture of him and I can confirm that he is the cutest little guy around. Sloane and Tyler Prescott are licensed foster parents, and El is the first child they fostered. Sloane and Tyler have been taking care of El for most of his life, along with their six-year-old and four-year-old daughters. Tyler who was unable to join our conversation today is also a hospital pharmacist. Sloane was also a teacher before becoming a stay at home parent three years ago. Thanks so much for joining us today Sloane.
Sloane Prescott (01:21):
I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Janine Beaudry (01:23):
Crystal Costella is El’s maternal great aunt and has known L all his life. She’s also been close with El’s birth mom, her whole life. Crystal became a formal respite care provider, so she could take care of El sometimes. And so that she could support long weekend family time with El and his birth mom. Crystal also has two daughters ages 12 and almost 4, and works for a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Thanks Crystal for joining us today.
Crystal Costella (01:52):
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Janine Beaudry (01:54):
Julie Koslowski is a veteran Family Services worker who has been supporting child and family safety and well being in that role for 20 years. During that time, she’s developed a passion for bridging foster and birth families in support of the children they care for, because doing so brings people together and leads to better outcomes. She reached out to us hoping we’d share this story because Sloane, Tyler and Crystal’s teamwork has greatly benefited El. Julie shared that you couldn’t ask for a better group of people, especially because their teamwork helped El have extended time with his birth mom and supported her in taking care of El. Julie, thanks so much for joining us today.
Julie Koslowski (02:30):
Thank you for having me.
Janine Beaudry (02:31):
Crystal, I was hoping we could start off this conversation, hearing a bit about your experience as a formal kinship respite provider. You already had a full busy life as a single mother of two, and also worked outside the home. I know it can be really hard to partner with Family Services and foster parents and shift your relationship with a family member so you can support a child’s safety and well being. I imagine it must have been very important to you. What were the greatest joys of dedicating your home, your heart and your time to L his birth mom?
Crystal Costella (02:59):
For me, I think the most important thing was to be able to maintain a strong bond and relationship with El but also to be able to give his mom some coaching and advice on how to be a better parent. Allowing her the extra time was both rewarding and trying at the same time, because I gave up my life on the weekends. Especially with my own kids, because I was so focused on providing her that extra time with El. But really though it was so important to me because he was so young that I had that time from age three months, till one year to really, for him to get to know me. So that I wasn’t like a stranger in his life when he got older to toddler age. So I was very happy for that. That was probably the best part.
Janine Beaudry (04:08):
And imagine some of the challenges you faced, and then there are so many, I’m sure that those of us who haven’t been at kinship caregiver could never imagine. What helped you overcome, or at least cope with those many challenges,
Crystal Costella (04:20):
Just knowing what he deserved made it easier for me to just kind of put one foot in front of the other and do whatever I had to do to be able to be a part of giving him that better life. But also having Sloane and Tyler’s support just, it was, it’s been a breeze really. There hasn’t really been anything difficult as far as communication or planning. Sloane was always so good about texting and communicating and setting things up and meeting halfway so that the travel time, because I live in St. Alban’s and they live in Morrisville. So she would always meet me halfway, which was super helpful to save on mileage and time. And then just communicating back and forth, like how we were feeling about things and like talking about the case and letting me know when things were going badly or when they were going good. Keeping me updated on EL all the time. It’s constantly sending all of us in the family photos that has made things so much easier knowing that he’s in foster care and not with me. And that’s what helped me make the decision not to go ahead with kinship care and allow him to remain in the foster home.
Janine Beaudry (05:45):
Sounds like you were able to maintain your relationship and maybe even strengthen your relationship. And it sounds like building that relationship with Sloane and Tyler and that respect that you’ve built and that partnership that you’ve built really allowed for that to happen.
Crystal Costella (05:59):
That’s True. Absolutely. I don’t think that it would have gone the same direction that it did if Sloane and Tyler weren’t who they are. And then of course, you know, Julia support anytime I had questions, I would reach out to her and she would answer anything that she could. She kind of kept me up to date with how things were going with mom, because she, wasn’t always honest with me about things. And I could communicate with Julie about things that she necessarily, wasn’t being honest with DCF about. So, communication for me is a huge thing and I thrive on communication. So when you have this whole group of people that are just trying to do what’s best for the baby, communicating as well as we all have, it just makes it that much easier.
Janine Beaudry (06:47):
Sounds like having that open communication really was part of being able to build better safety for El between all of you. Sloane you and Tyler became foster parents for the first time a year ago. And you already had busy lives with work. And two young children, El has been with you ever since. And I imagine a lot has changed for you over the past year. What has made all of those changes worth it.
Sloane Prescott (07:10):
He has brought so much joy to our family. I always say throughout this whole journey, the joy to hardship ratio with him is 10 to one. We’ve experienced so many firsts with him that have been so special. Such as his first steps, its first teeth, his first words. So that’s just made it so special. We’ve learned so much as a family, especially my girls about sacrificial love and sacrificial giving. So those experiences that they’ve gone through are so invaluable to us and it also always feels worth it when we zoom out and look at the big picture, knowing that the love that he’s felt, the positive attachments that he’s made are going to shape and impact him for the rest of his life. So even when it’s hard now, knowing that doing this work will matter forever. Always it makes it feel worth it.
Janine Beaudry (08:08):
How about for your children? Have there been any major positives that have just been obvious to you in the last year?
Sloane Prescott (08:15):
So my oldest is very giving, we talk a lot about how we’re doing this because we feel called to do it. We want to give back to him. So I’ve just noticed that she is very giving and loving herself. One thing she did recently that was cute was she made bouquets for every social worker that came and picked him up throughout the week. She loves to pick flowers and make bouquets. So every time when somebody came, picked them up and she made one for his mom, which was sweet, cause we did a visit. So she’s just, I don’t know seen and learning about giving and sacrificing our time and things that we might want to do because we’re caring for this little guy and yeah, so it’s been very positive for them. I think
Janine Beaudry (09:01):
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice about being a foster parent and having El come into your lives, what would you say?
Sloane Prescott (09:09):
This one makes me laugh. I would tell myself which I still tell myself every day not to ride the emotional roller coaster that is foster care. My husband is really good at this. I am not, but I would just try it and tell myself to focus on the day today. What can I do to love and support this child today? Not focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow. What’s going to happen next week. What’s going to happen next month. Cause that I did for a while and it made me crazy. So just focusing on the here and now and just trusting in what’s going to happen. It’s going to be what’s best for him that there’s a system in place that is designed to do what’s best for kids and families and just focusing on my job, which is to love and support him.
Janine Beaudry (10:00):
And what helped you to kind of make that transition from worrying about those things, to focusing on the best you can give the love you can give right now and trusting that, you know, everybody is working in terms of making sure that El has what he needs and has the best in his safe and doing well. I think
Sloane Prescott (10:18):
Maybe from crashing and burning a little bit, getting a little burnt out and working through that, talking a lot with my husband about it. Cause he does a very good job at not going down the rabbit hole all the time. So, and just seeing how he’s handled it. And it is, I have to be very intentional about it, like every day. Okay. I’m not going to go there. I’m going to stay here. But it’s definitely something I am still working through
Janine Beaudry (10:51):
Every day. Right, right. One day at a time, it sounds like it has to be a pretty intentional process for you. Julie, you’ve been working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and families for two decades. You must’ve experienced just about everything in that time. What has been special about what Sloane and Tyler and Crystal have done to support El and his birth mom?
Julie Koslowski (11:12):
Well, they’ve been able to wrap the mom together when she is willing to accept the help. Sloane provides visits. Crystal has provided visits and extended family members have provided visits. And at this point, mom is choosing not to be a part of her immediate family and has disengaged from her support group. But El has not lost all those support. So he knows who his grandparents are. He knows who his great-grandparents are. He knows who his biological cousins are. He knows his uncle is. He knows who his great aunt is. He’s familiar with that. And you know, I couldn’t ask for a better scenario. You know, they’ve become a family like Sloane and her family have like blended with EL’s birth family. And now he has tons of people who love and care for him and are there to protect him. Yeah. So it’s been amazing journey this has been a very special case. I think, I think we have really unique people who are willing to give themselves, even though it’s really hard. Yeah so we’ve been really lucky.
Janine Beaudry (12:50):
What would the situation, if you had to imagine it looked like if there wasn’t such involvement with birth family and such ease of the relationship between birth family and foster family.
Julie Koslowski (13:02):
I think that El would lose out on knowing his birth family. I think that there are times that foster parents feel threatened or the birth family feel threatened and it’s all like a tug of war. And I think that’s really damaging for youth and children and especially babies. I think in order for children to be successful and to help young adults, they need to have all those types of relationships, family relationships, and it’s important, you know, and it, it creates a safety net for this child, even if, and the thing is, if he say he is adopted, he’s not going to lose all that family and support or for some reason he’s not adopted. And mom is able to meet the case plan goals and reunification happens. My intention would be for that extended family to be there for safety. And we’ve created relationship between mom and the foster parents as well. So that no matter what, they’re going to have a connection because it’s an L’s best interest. So Julie, what are
Janine Beaudry (14:23):
Some thoughts or advice you could share with family services, workers or kinship or foster caregivers who are daunted by partnering in support of a child and family?
Julie Koslowski (14:33):
It’s not about you. It’s about the child. The child is the most important thing. It’s important to immediately start doing genograms immediately and reaching out to family. It takes a long time and there also has to be a process. You know, we’re going to be going through. And just because someone couldn’t be a placement doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of this child’s life. They could be like, oh, I can provide information on their birth parents and create a book of what their life look like. They can provide transportation. It needs to happen for these children because it’s horrible. When you know, you, we remove a child and we place them in a foster family. And if it’s on an island, once they’re placed back, they lose all of those supports and connections. And that’s the worst case scenario. The goal would be to encourage foster families and birth families to work cohesively. And sometimes it’s challenging, you know, like this is a really, really good situation. This is, you know, just very lucky, very sincere and caring. And the people that we’re not, we weeded them out. And it was a process and I think that was hard for everybody.
Janine Beaudry (15:58):
Yeah, so it sounds pretty clear that it’s a difficult process and it’s far and beyond worth it for the child or children. And if people involved, regardless of their role, regardless of their relationship, keep in their mind, it’s not about me, I’m an adult here and it’s about putting that child or those children first. And with that squarely in my mind now what needs to happen, right?
Julie Koslowski (16:25):
And sometimes parents don’t have the best reactions and that’s happened. You know, unfortunately, you know, the family is so involved and caring about El that mom views them as a threat because, you know, they were concerned about mom’s behaviors, which were not safe and let us know. And then once we, you know, I confronted mom on those behaviors, she cut her family off and that’s a huge concern cause I’m, I don’t think reunification will be successful if she does not mend those fences with her family.
Janine Beaudry (17:06):
Yeah. But it sounds like the bottom line is that she’s an adult. She can make whatever choices she makes. She has the capacity she has. And for El regardless, El has his people,
Julie Koslowski (17:19):
He has a huge village and you know, Sloane’s in, it’s almost, you know, what was it last weekend? You guys had a family dinner at your house. And it was like, I was like, that’s awesome. You know, like why don’t and I get invited, but
Sloane Prescott (17:39):
We didn’t want to bother you.
Julie Koslowski (17:41):
I would have came for free food. No, but that, that’s what in a perfect world, and it’s, it doesn’t always happen. And I think that, I think if we really took the time and I think we need a position that just does this breech office to
Crystal Costella (18:03):
You look at me like you’re waiting for me to volunteer.
Julie Koslowski (18:07):
I think you’d be good. But I think that it’s important. I think that every family has value and every person in that family has value. We’ve all made poor choices in our life. Like I make mistakes every day, but we can’t hold it against. It doesn’t mean they don’t love this child or they are not gonna be a safety. And I think that the department needs to change. I think that training and working in advocacy for families and foster parents is very important in this area.
Janine Beaudry (18:47):
Yeah, and it’s, you know, somewhat, historically new for birth family kinship to really be reached out to immediately to be wrapped into the work that’s happening, to become a very integral part of the planning and a child or children’s lives. That has been a possible thing and something that’s happened, but not necessarily always. And there’s been some kind of procedural things in the way of that before.
Julie Koslowski (19:18):
We’ve always, we’re evolving as a state. I remember when we didn’t look at family and then I see the outcomes of the children who didn’t have that. So it’s like a huge passion for me with any case I can get my hands on and going, okay, let’s figure this out. Even if it’s mining the parent’s childhood file, you know, and figuring out who’s who there was a lot of process here. And there was a lot of learning for everybody involved, including me. I’ve never went through the process. Chris, we found Crystal, there was other family members that also were interested and we had to call a couple times not because it’s a huge thing to take on. So it was a long process and we even went through we had an appeal because you were Sloane and Tyler were like, we love this kid. We don’t want to lose him. And there was an appeal process. And in the end we all came together, just talking and talking it out and figuring out a way that everybody could be involved. And I think Crystal is, and her mom were on the call. We, it was during COVID loved that. But, and we’re doing it virtually and you, Crystal is like, I just want them to have the best life possible. And I think, and they were like, we think that’s what Sloane and Tyler.
Crystal Costella (20:55):
Because I had begun the process to become his kinship provider I had secured daycare. I had made a room in my two bedroom apartment for him. I had my toddler sleeping in my room with me just to make that possible. And it got to the point of having a virtual meeting with the coordinator who deals with children being moved from foster home to foster home. And, you know, trying to limit the amount of times are moved. And she just said she wanted to be transparent and said that, you know, they’ve, the Prescott’s had expressed their desire to maintain their placement. And I said, then why are we even here? That’s a no brainer for me. So she had suggested that we all have a meeting with Julie and we did, it was a very emotional meeting, but in the end, everybody agreed.
Crystal Costella (21:48):
Everyone was on the same page. And we all just knew, like there was, there was no question ever, whether a single mom of two kids in a two bedroom apartment should take on another baby. Right. Or if he could just stay where he is going to have the best life possible. So it was, it was easy. Yeah. Honestly, like I hear horror stories all the time and I’m like, I don’t understand this is, it’s been hard, but it’s been easy. Really. It’s been a long process, but with patience and understanding and knowing that ultimately we all just want the same thing. That just makes it easy,
Julie Koslowski (22:28):
Really important for, you know, you think about it, you take down your egos and it’s again, it’s about the child and what does this child need and how can we give it in different ways collectively? Yeah. And communication. Like, I think that communication was key and it wasn’t through a social worker. It was the foster parent and the kinship provider or family connecting. And I haven’t had to do much after that. They, I mean, they, you know, yeah. And also letting go of the micromanaging, I think that social workers will do that. Yeah. You know, they need to be able to make some decisions together.
Janine Beaudry (23:13):
So it sounds like if birth family and foster families are able to really work well together, then any part of the system that’s still involved is able to step back, do other work and let a lot of that decision-making happen between family members. Right?
Julie Koslowski (23:29):
Yeah. And we can focus on, okay, how can we get the parent to resume their, you know, parental responsibilities or how can we make it easier for the foster parent or the family provider or the court process?
Janine Beaudry (23:46):
It’s a lot, a lot of things need a lot of focus and the more everybody’s stepping up to the plate for that, the better we’re all able to do all of those different things that need to happen.
Julie Koslowski (23:55):
That there’s hundreds and hundreds of cases you’re in, you’re only one of many that each social worker takes on in a day. So knowing that we can help ease that just by simple communication, it would eliminate so many problems within the system.
Janine Beaudry (24:14):
It takes a village. Right? Absolutely.
Julie Koslowski (24:16):
There’s less communication problems, you know, like you ever play like a telephone, the phone
Janine Beaudry (24:23):
That gets you in trouble.
Julie Koslowski (24:24):
Absolutely. Cause the story changes or something happens
Janine Beaudry (24:27):
Yeah. With the best of intentions, anytime there’s somebody in the middle of a communication,
Julie Koslowski (24:31):
But the, one of the things in this family is they really don’t have the ego issue in the foster parents. So that has been the great thing. They’re just all, I would say, angelic and easy to work with that is not always common. Yes. Both.
Janine Beaudry (24:52):
I’m among angels right now. Yeah.
Julie Koslowski (24:54):
And you know, this is a unique and lucky case and this is, you know, if it goes to training, I really would like social workers to listen. And I want foster parents to listen and I want extended family and extended family also can look at, you could be like, oh, they’re not biological, but they’re fictive kin because that also plays a factor.
Janine Beaudry (25:17):
Anybody who is in the child’s sphere right? And knows him, loves him and cares about him can be involved.
Julie Koslowski (25:25):
You know, like you look at Sloane’s family, they’ve, she has a large family and connections and a church, and they’ve all opened up and have fallen in love with this little guy. So it’s just bigger and bigger of safety and love. And having him be raised healthy and have attachments
Janine Beaudry (25:47):
So much absolute honor to sit and listen to this story and listen to the roles that you’ve all played. How you’ve worked together, put yourself aside for the love and benefit of a child and you know, and his birth mom and being there as a support, no matter what. And yet making sure that that safety and wellbeing is the center for, for that child. So before we close, I want to allow for anyone to share any thoughts that you might have that you want to share with each other or any thoughts just that we haven’t talked about yet that you’d like to share with our,
Julie Koslowski (26:26):
Well, I do want to add that Sloane and Tyler have been amazing with working with mom and that is key. Having the parent feel also safe and the parent being able to say, my kid’s a good place. I know my kids safe. I know my kids loved. And the communication, like when cause of COVID and some illnesses, they couldn’t always have visits. Sloane took it on and did video calls with mom. And that was huge. She sends her pictures. You guys have professional pictures done and you give them to the parents of
Crystal Costella (27:10):
Family. We get them to.
Julie Koslowski (27:12):
Wonderful, you know, like that. That’s amazing. Like I think you guys are amazing.
Sloane Prescott (27:20):
Julie Koslowski (27:21):
When I say angelic. Yes. That’s how I describe you. I’m like they’re angels. I don’t know where they came from. You know.
Sloane Prescott (27:27):
My younger girls are very blonde.
Julie Koslowski (27:30):
And they dance and it’s, you know, working with crystal and your parents has been an amazing experience. And you know, this is what I would hope for every case. It’s not always like this and this is a special case, but it’s made me want to change my practice on how I do things.
Sloane Prescott (27:53):
I think I’ll add to that, that your availability and accessibility has been so helpful in this process.
Janine Beaudry (28:00):
I guess bottom line is it’s incredibly helpful to have someone that you can contact in the moment when there’s something that comes up and we acknowledged that it isn’t always possible. And that family services, whatever role somebody has in there, they have to have lives as well and be able to have some boundaries around communication. Yeah. But when you’ve been able to respond, whenever something has come up, it’s been incredibly helpful.
Julie Koslowski (28:25):
It’s been the same way with Crystal and Sloane. Like I could text at any time. So it’s been reciprocal. Nice. and that’s been very helpful. Nice.
Julie Koslowski (28:39):
So knowing boundaries too, like, is this important enough to call Julia for, and then the same thing went for a Sloane too. Like there was, I forgot. It was like one of the first couple overnights that I had with El, and he was miserable. He doesn’t have, he never cries. He’s always so happy. And he cried from the moment I picked him up until I finally texted Sloane and was like, do you have any other suggestions? And she was like you can try this. Or if you want, I can just come meet you. Like, she was just so ready and willing, like right there. It didn’t matter, no matter what, no matter any questions I’ve ever had, I just call, I asked, she’s always responded. So having people available to have that open communication with makes it that much easier. I never feel like I’m intruding on anyone’s life by sending a message or popping in or whatever.
Sloane Prescott (29:41):
I want to piggyback on what Julie was saying. Through the whole process, I really tried to have the mindset of the golden rule, treating others how you want to be treated. So I always try to think, how would I want to be treated if I was this mother, if I was this great aunt, if I was this grandmother, I would want to be treated with grace with love, with kindness, with respect, even though it’s messy, even though it’s very awkward at times, I still would want to be treated that way. So I always just try to go in new day, I’m on a, treat them with kindness. So that’s, I think helped us do what we’ve done. And the only other thing I wanted to say is I just wanted to encourage whoever’s listening. That there’s so much beauty in foster care. It certainly would be easier if we had said no and stayed on the sidelines. That’s not my problem. I don’t need to worry about that, but we would’ve missed out on so much, all the wonderful relationships that we’ve made with his family and workers, all the growth we’ve been able to see in ourselves and our children and all the joy that he’s brought into our home that we would have missed out on if we hadn’t entered into all of it. So.
Janine Beaudry (30:52):
Getting all emotional
Sloane Prescott (30:54):
Working hard not to.
Janine Beaudry (30:57):
So thank you so much, Julie, Sloane and Crystal for joining us today to talk about great partnerships between family services and kin and foster care givers. We so appreciate your wealth of experience and the work you do every day. This has been an episode of Welcome to the Field with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. If you found this podcast useful, please visit our website, Vermontcwtp.org and check out our other podcast topics. Thanks for listening.
Cassie Gillespie (31:28):
Thank you for listening. Welcome to the Field is produced by the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Esmond Communications and Eagan media productions for Welcome to the Field, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.