As we continue celebrating our team members during Child Welfare Worker Appreciation Week, here’s a repost of an earlier story to recognize Ashley Akerman who leads our Foster Care Mentoring Program. Ashley is dedicated to standing up every day for the children, youth and families we serve. Thank you Ashley, for all you do!

Ashley is Children’s Home & Aid’s first statewide Foster Parent Support Specialist. She is based out of our Northern Region and works with foster parents across the state through our Foster Parent Mentoring program.

1. Ashley is a former foster youth.

When Ashley was 9 years old, she entered into foster care due to abuse and neglect. For years, Ashley moved around from home to home—living in 16 different places in 9 years. After she aged out of the foster care system at age 18, Ashley graduated from high school and began working at McDonald’s, where she met her husband, Brandon. At 20, Ashley began working at a residential center for people with developmental disabilities while completing her Associate’s degree at Rock River Valley College. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rockford University. In October 2016, Ashley became involved with developing the Foster Parenting Mentor program and was hired by Children’s Home & Aid to implement it across the agency.

When Ashley shares her story and people find out the amount of foster homes she lived in, they often assume the problem was either her or the foster parents. Ashley disagrees, “None of the homes I lived in were bad. The parents simply weren’t prepared, trained or supported to care for children like me who’ve been through a great deal of trauma. We now know that programs like Foster Parent Mentoring are paramount to ensuring foster parents are able to understand and meet the needs of children.”

2. Ashley’s personal experience helped shape our innovative Foster Care Mentoring program.

In June 2017, Children’s Home & Aid began the Foster Parent Mentoring program to increase the support available to foster parents with a goal of improving the quality of foster parenting. Ashley worked with foster parents to help design this unique program that provides added support to new foster parents through one-on-one mentoring. Through this program, all newly licensed foster parents are coupled with an experienced foster parent, serving as a mentor throughout the family’s first year of foster parenting. Each mentor-mentee relationship differs; some meet for coffee or playdates with their children, while others rely on phone or email conversations.

Ashley’s story doesn’t define her. ”My experience gives me the tools to do my job—to train foster parents, to work on trauma committees and improve the quality of foster care. I’m not glad that it happened to me, but I’m thankful to have gained the knowledge to help others,” Ashley says of her experience as a foster youth.

3. Ashley is a foster mom!

Ashley and her husband, Brandon, are the parents of four children, including one child through adoption and two little girls, who are in long-term placement with the family. Ashley and Brandon welcomed their 8-year-old son Alexander in 2009 before adopting their daughter Emersyn, age 2, this year. Brandon and Ashley have fostered 10 children throughout their time as foster parents. Ashley and her family enjoy family game nights and are actively involved in their community.

Ashley wants those interested in becoming a foster parent to know that it’s as challenging as it is rewarding. “All children deserve to know safety and security and to be able to provide them with that is the most important thing that we can do. Foster parenting is not only about the journey of each individual child, but also an opportunity to rewrite the future for an entire family.”