Pam Piper

Pam Piper is the Foster/Kin Care Manager for the Vermont Department for Children and Families.  Her position is a new one, which was developed by the department to ensure that needs of caregivers are being met.  Here she shares some thoughts about her work.

Tell us about your role as Foster/Kin Care Manager.
My focus is to develop and support all aspects of generating a Caregiver network that can meet the needs of children that come into our system. There are 3 specific areas of focus: Recruitment, Retention and Training. Within those areas there are numerous specific tasks.
I work closely with the Vermont Foster Adoptive Family Association (VFAFA), Vermont Kin as Parents (VKAP) and the Vermont Adoption Consortium (VAC) as well as with the Resource Coordinators, members of the Child Welfare Training Partnership (CWTP) and the various units of Central Office such as the Licensing & Policy units.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy meeting with the foster, kin and adoptive families; hearing their stories and gaining their perspective is invaluable. I like brainstorming solutions to problems they are facing and empowering them to add their voices to the DCF/ Family Services discussion. With that said, since starting in this position I have spent a great deal of time learning the laws, mandates and policies that DCF/Family Services social workers operate under. It is important to understand the “system” so that I can work effectively and speak knowledgeably to our parents. I like the learning, but I like working with people more, and I feel that I am finally at that point that I can be spending more time with our families.
I also really like working with the folks who are an essential part of the support network for our families. The Training Partnership and Resource Coordinators jump to mind. I am in awe of the amazing supports that are available in the state and I enjoy sharing that information with our families, by highlighting them in newsletters, websites or in conversation.

What would you like Kinship, Foster, and Adoptive families in Vermont to know about the resources available to them?

As I mentioned above there are so many great resources in VT. Sometimes the trick is knowing that they are available! If people have access I would encourage them to use the internet to seek out resources. Most organizations have websites. For Caregiver Families I would direct them to
www. VFAFA.org – VFAFA (VT Foster/Adoptive Family Association),
http://www.vermontkinasparents.org -VKAP (VT Kin As Parents)
http://www.VtAdoption.org – VAC (VT Adoption Consortium)
http://www.fostercare.vt.gov – DCF webpage
https://voicesatthetable.wordpress.com/ VOICES Blog

Here you will find contact information and can learn about supports, meetings and initiatives that each of these organizations are engaged in. For instance, VFAFA has a fund called the Children’s Activity Fund that enables foster & adoptive families to access $100. per year/per child in the home, for enrichment activities. The application is on the website or you can ask you Resource Coordinator for more info. Many districts have local organizations. The RC in your district can help you be in touch with them.
If you are interested in training, members of the CWTP Child Welfare Training Partnership are great people to talk with. Information is available on this blog under the Educational Opportunities tab and also the links to the right of this article.

Also, the Caregiver Training Collaborative Bulletin is a listing of training and conference announcements and pages specific to different resources such as VT Family Network (focus is education and special needs) and Prevent Child Abuse VT which is distributed quarterly. It also includes a Statewide Listing of Support Groups for Foster, Kin and Adoptive families.  Upcoming issues of the Bulletin will be available on this blog.  If you would like to receive the Bulletin directly, please email me at pamela.piper@vermont.gov.

I think that more often than not, the “resource” folks are looking for is a person to speak with. Resource Coordinators and their support workers (if they are lucky enough to have one) are frequently the first people parents turn to. Though not all districts have them, support groups and local associations are invaluable resources. Being able to meet or talk to other parents that are experiencing the same thing as you are, can be the greatest resource of all. These types of groups can be formal or not, and from my experience, parents who have helped to form and sustain a group are more than willing to talk with you about what works and what doesn’t. If you would be interested in talking to someone please send me an email and I will help connect you.

What else would you like to share?

Simply put, I would like to say thank you to all of you who are reading this. You are the people who provide the “shelter in the storm” for these vulnerable youth. That support, caring, and love is incredible. I feel privileged to be able to work to support you and this part of the System of Care. You are often the unsung heros….I wish everyone had an opportunity to truly understand the difference you make for these children and ultimately for the state of VT.

How can people get in touch with you?

The best way is via email pamela.piper@vermont.gov.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Pam.  Best of luck with your work.


Vermont Kin as Parents offers their 11th Annual Kinship Conference on September 16, 2015 in South Burlington.  The theme of this year’s conference is “Parenting Revisited:  From Connection to Hope,” and the keynote speaker is Dr. Nancy Young.  Dr. Young is Director of both Children and Family Futures and the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.

This conference is FREE for kinship caregivers.  It offers a compelling opportunity to gain awareness and skills, learn about resources, and connect with kinship families and those who work with them.

Click here to register for the conference

Grand Teton National ParkTo  Vermont’s foster, kin and adoptive parents —

It has been a terribly difficult few [weeks] for Vermont. The death of Lara Sobel and members of the Herring family is devastating for all who were close to them and for all of us who have chosen to support the well-being of Vermont’s most vulnerable youth.  You, our caregivers, are a part of this network, and I hope that you have been able to receive support from each other and your families as you cope with this heartbreaking news.

We have received so many messages of sympathy and support and  I would like to share some words that were passed on to me [soon after Lara died].  Written by a foster parent who knew Lara well, her words speak fondly of Lara and they touch upon the essence of why we all have chosen to do what we do.  She wrote:

 “When the unspeakable happens, it’s hard to understand how time doesn’t just stop for a moment to process the loss and to consider how exactly to move forward.

 Our community has lost a very special person. To me, Lara was the funny, practical, kind, and engaging case investigator who introduced me to many of my children and who built my current family. She was good at her job and a reasonable person with reasonable expectations for families. She valued safety for children and families, and joyfully fostered cats and kittens for CVHS with her daughters, for whom life will never be the same.

 When a woman who recently lost custody of a child shot and killed Lara last night, Lara became the tangible face of the violence that our community of social workers, family support providers, and foster families face every day. Her loss reminds us of our fear, but also of our hope.

Please rally around your community’s social and support workers and families this weekend. They need to process unfathomable loss, fear, and uncertainty about their work. They need positive reinforcement. They might even need a kind of permission from their loved ones to continue risking everything in order to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families. They need the negativity that is surrounding the loss of Lara to stop, and for her and their incredible contributions to be recognized. They need things I can’t even imagine.”

To support a stronger system and to break the cycle of violence, consider searching for and donating to the following of many options: Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, Easter Seals, LUND, Central VT Foster Parent Association (ask me about how to support this last one)

Thank you, Lara, for everything you did for our community. We will not forget. We will continue to do what we do.”


As we move through the upcoming weeks please know how grateful I am for your contributions to the well-being of the children in your care. Please, let’s continue to support one another in work that we do.

I imagine that many of the children in your care may also be very aware of this situation and that it threatens to undermine their sense of safety, even if they are safe in your home. It may  trigger fear and acting out behaviors that you have not seen in some time and they may need more reassurance than ever.  I would also refer you to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for excellent resources. (http://www.nctsn.org/)

Take good care of yourselves and each other.


Cindy Walcott

Deputy Commissioner for Family Services

VT Department for Children and Families

You Are In Invited to

Siblings Taking a Picture
The Proclamation Signing for National Foster Care Month
May 7th at 9:30am
Montpelier, VT at the State Capitol

Governor Shumlin will sign the Proclamation

recognizing that May is National Foster Care Month.

Please join us after the signing for refreshments.


In Vermont and beyond, more and more people are raising the children of relatives. Vermont Kin as Parents (VKAP) is an organization here in Vermont that supports these caregivers in numerous ways. VKAP is currently piloting a Kinship Navigator position in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. Today we learn more about this work from Brenda Hamlin, VKAP’s Kinship Navigator.
Thanks so much for talking with us, Brenda. Tell us, what does VKAP do?
VKAP helps Grandparents and other relatives navigate through court systems, Reach-up programs and sometimes just the friendly ear. We let everyone know about Support Groups and how important they are. We have a conference in Sept. in which caregivers attend for free. We collaborate with many area partners is helping support kin caregivers in their daily struggles.

10646804_10205825740827279_7711607593750157582_nTell us about your role as a Kinship Navigator.
Our pilot program of kinship navigator is to help relatives in Franklin and Grand Isle counties who are caring for the relatives children. I have been involved with the Community Partners program that meets monthly at NCSS. Speaking to other mental health agencies as well as just kinship caregivers.

What kinds of requests do you receive from kin caregivers?
Most of our kin caregivers would just like to know where they could get help with either financial or even school IEP”S. I also help caregivers navigate with DCF and the policies. I have just been a listening ear as well. Another requests is,” how do I get custody of my grandchild?” I help them to get through the courts.

Can you support families outside of Franklin and Grand Isles counties?
Yes, VKAP is state wide and supports everyone.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of this work?
Letting caregivers know they aren’t alone.

What are your hopes for the position in the future?
I would hope that there would be a kin navigator in nearly every county.

What you most like kinship caregivers to know?
I would like everyone to know they aren’t alone. There are times when they will feel secluded. Joining a “Support Group” is key.  Here’s contact information for the Support Groups currently happening around the state:  Current Kinship Support Groups in Vermont

In what ways can friends and community members support kinship caregivers?
Some caregivers feel ashamed, don’t look at caregivers as this is their mistake. Their child is fighting a battle be it substance abuse or mental health issues. Always be mindful of the caregivers feelings too.

Are there ways that people can advocate to get more kinship navigator positions or other supports for kinship caregivers around the state?
Yes, Legislate for Kin Navigator funds, and encourage others to talk with senators and people in congress to encourage this.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would like to let readers know they aren’t alone. We have many families who feel secluded and by joining support groups or just calling VKAP we could put you in touch with a support group. You can contact VKAP at (802) 871-5104 or (802) 871-5109. My email is: brendah.kin@comcast.net, and our website is: http://vermontkinasparents.org/.

Also, join us for our Annual Conference, which will take place September 16, 2015 in South Burlington. The conference is free for caregivers, and it is always a great opportunity to meet others and learn about helpful resources. Check back on our website, or give us a call for more details, as the date approaches.

Thanks for the wonderful work you and VKAP are doing, Brenda!


I bet that many of our readers can relate to this article on adoption from Renae Regehr on xojane.com:

These Are the Three Worst Comments Adoptive Parents Hate to Hear, So Please Take Note

Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion.


I am at the grocery check out line with my four-year-old son, and the cashier says:

“Your son is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, we think so too,” I reply as I note her observing my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

She inquires, “Is your husband dark-skinned?”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Oh, well is he from Latin America?”

“No he isn’t.”

“Oh,” the cashier replies beginning to look puzzled but now wants to solve this mystery. “Well, your son has such beautiful dark features.”

“Thank you, we think he is so handsome too.”

She probes some more.

“That is so interesting, you and your husband are fair-skinned, but your son has dark features.”

The running commentary in my head says, “Thank you, Sherlock, for pointing out the obvious to me. I had never noticed that before.”

But the words that come from my mouth say instead, “I know, it is because our son is adopted.”

“Oh, he is adopted. That is so interesting . . .”

Now, the next few comments in the conversation I know are well-meaning, but please hear me out because they can really cause my heart rate to increase, breath to shorten and blood pressure to rise.

However, let’s first talk about adoption. Adoption is beautiful and not that rare of an occurrence. Chances are likely that you know someone adopted, have met adoptive parents or perhaps have even mulled over the idea of adopting. Regardless of adoption or through biological birth, like any regular parent I love my four-year-old son. He means the world to me. Yes, our son is adopted, and just like your story, our family story is incredibly special, vulnerable, and personal.

But that is just the point; our family story is our special story about how we have a family, just like yours is yours. However, in my experience, when people hear the word adoption it seems to give them this idea that they can, tact aside, ask many personal questions about life, our son, and the context that he was adopted from.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me save you the grief or embarrassment of saying the following three comments that inevitably always arise in a conversation.

1. “You are so amazing for adopting — I couldn’t do what you did.”

This comment gets me every time! First, would you ever say that to a new mother who just gave birth to a child? “You are so amazing for giving birth.” No, never! In fact, that would sound absolutely ridiculous if such comments were made.

Secondly, and more importantly, these comments are utterly false because every child deserves a home. Life is not about me, and I am not a saint; it is my son’s and every child’s right that is born on this earth to have parent(s) that deeply love and value them.

The “I couldn’t do what you did” part just makes you sound like you haven’t fully thought that sentence through because, yes, you could adopt. Regardless, every child deserves a home. Adoptive parents are parents just by a different means. But that is all. They are parents, not saints.

2. “Are you going to have any of your own real children?”

Really?! You have got to be joking. I did not know that having a child come from my uterus was the only criteria for some relationship to be considered real! Think about this: Is the love to your spouse or partner real? Do you question that bond of love and ask others if their bond is real? My son is my own real child! It does not matter to me as to whether my son comes from my own actual body because I can 100 percent confidently tell you he feels like he is a part of me.

On a different note, when you find out my son is adopted and ask me this question, coupled with the fact that you don’t even know me, this can be highly offensive. Rather, it would be much more appreciated if you asked, “How many more children will you have?”

3. “Do they know who their real family is?”

It is 3:30 a.m. and our son has just woken up to crawl into our bed because he is scared. Sleepily I say to him, “Hold on sweetie, let’s let Daddy sleep. I will come lay beside you.”

(Having three in a queen-size bed inevitably means one of us isn’t going to sleep that night.)

He slumps down back to his bed, which happens to be right beside our bed, but on the way he hits his head on the night-time dresser. Startled by his cry of pain, I jump out of bed as fast as lightning, pick him up and start consoling and rocking him. My husband is awakened by the commotion and jumps out of bed to get a cloth for the tiny cut on his face.

In light of the story, let’s get back to the question of knowing who our son’s “real” family is. I think it is safe to say that teaching our son the difference between right and wrong, teaching him how to communicate and respect others, showing him how to ride a bike, hold a spoon, wipe his bum, and, most importantly, giving him unconditional love and support are the requirements for being a real family. So to answer your question, yes our son knows exactly who his real family is.


celebrateThis is an opportunity to celebrate the many permanent families that have been created through adoption.  It’s also a time to recognize the complex emotions that those involved with adoption may experience.

The Vermont Adoption Consortium has put together a wonderful newsletter that includes stories about adoption, a calendar of ideas for how to spread the word about adoption this month, and opportunities for adoptive families to celebrate and share their stories.  See the newsletter here.

For information on national adoption-related advocacy and other items of interest, check out the links, “National Adoption Month” and “Child Welfare Information Gateway” to the right of this post, under the heading, “Kinship, Foster, and Adoptive Websites.”

If adoption has touched your life, share with us on this blog, what it means to you.


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