It might sound like an unlikely connection, but a good approach toward being a foster parent — and working with all the people involved in a foster child’s life — can be found in the story of Harley-Davidson.
Not too long ago, more than a quarter of a million people came to Milwaukee to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of this great company. But things weren’t always great for the motorcycle giant.
Taking a different approach
Back in 1981, after years of mismanagement, profits were in a freefall and Harley-Davidson lost almost all customer loyalty. New leaders stepped in to organize, stabilize and get the company back on top. What happened next is one of the reasons Harley-Davidson remains on top today. They took a different approach – a team approach to manufacturing motorcycles!
Having a top-down command and control system works to get out of a crisis, but Harley-Davidson didn’t want its employees to revert back to old habits. Old habits of waiting for orders from the top with no personal stake or pride in the matter. So the company created “Natural Work Groups” and empowered its employees to successfully run the business of assembling motorcycles. Teams of five to six employees manually build a motorcycle, solving problems, making adjustments and decisions all while taking great pride in the bike the team produces. People in upper management positions serve as “coaches” and help to mentor the problem-solving and decision-making processes.
Over years of fostering, I have personally experienced great gains and insight using a team approach. The two areas of fostering that have been positively affected the most have been communication and relationships, which are ironically the two areas I hear about the most struggles. When our family has successfully worked as a team — with the biological parents, caseworker, supervisor, guardian ad litem, doctors and therapists — those two areas changed from more of a struggle to more of a strength.
We are on the same team
When a child is first placed in our home, we take that child to see our family pediatrician within 24 hours and then convey this initial health screening to all parties (caseworker, supervisor and guardian ad litem) in a group email. This group is then emailed continually throughout the placement with any and all new information. Keeping this group informed allows us to stay on the same page as a team. Once visits begin, a communication journal goes between our home and the biological parents with letters, appointment updates/future appointment dates and lots of photos. After sharing the journal, I will call a parent and make sure they don’t have any further concerns or questions. For many parents, the simple act of writing to them and sending pictures calms some of their worries. The conversation then turns to the fact that we are on the same team working for what is in the best interest of the child. All too often, Ihear from parents that because their child was placed with me they thought I was going to adopt them.
There is relief and surprise in their voice when I share my ideas of working together with them, as an ally and not the enemy.
When parents feel a part of a team, they also feel supported and a sense of belonging. This enables many parents to focus more on the overall goal without the overwhelming feeling of being solely responsible for everything. The relationship can then move forward because the team gives them the sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
One less juggle
Speaking of that overwhelming feeling of being solely responsible for everything, enter the caseworker! Aside from your case, this individual has a full load of families in crisis that they are juggling every day. When I keep the team informed, through group emails, our worker can rest assured that all team members are getting the same information and updates — one less juggle. When I educate myself about the best services to wrap around the child and get that information to the team –—one less juggle. When I form a good working relationship with the biological parents, I can talk on behalf of the team to them – one less juggle.
Working together is success
The communication and relationships we build throughout a placement create a synergy where the sum is greater than the parts! This synergy maximizes the strength of each person on the team, and the combined efforts produce far more than the individual ones.
Anyone can be told what to do, but there is no personal “buy in,” self-pride or sense of team in a command-and-control style of management.
My friends, we are doing far more than assembling motorcycles. We are building up people and changing lives in the process. And the good news is, we have just the spot for you on the team!
Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success!
– Henry Ford
– Betsy DuKatz, licensed foster parent
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services recruits, trains and provides support services for foster families. The need for foster parents in Wisconsin is great. Contact us to receive information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, or visit our website to learn more.