Mother Courageous

Queens mom Sandra McNulty understands
the obstacles and challenges that children in the foster care system face. A
foster mother of 12 years for The New York
Foundling
, McNulty devotes much of her time to helping other moms become better
foster parents, too. As a support group facilitator for the agency’s new KEEP
Safe program, McNulty works to equip these moms with the skills needed to
handle the challenges of raising teenagers in foster care.

The only independent center dedicated to the protection of
children in the NYC area, the New York Foundling provides support for families
faced with issues like poverty, drugs and abuse through a multifaceted network
of specialized programs. In the past, the Foundling has focused on education
and resources for younger foster children. Yet it’s the adolescents and
teenagers who need more focused attention, according to executive director Bill
Baccaglini. Many have been in the system their entire lives and carry emotional
and behavioral baggage. As a result, they have difficulty with their peer
relationships and in education and sometimes turn to violence and substance
abuse.

The New York Foundling is currently addressing these
problems with the launch of KEEP Safe, originally implemented in San
Diego, and they have high hopes of making a dent. “She [McNulty] was hired because of her
strong desire to help children in need and her effectiveness as a parent, as
evidenced by the success she has had with her own children as well as her many
foster children,” explains Baccaglini.

After being approached by a fellow colleague about being a
facilitator for the program, McNulty attended a week of intensive training. She
now spends her time making home visits and giving families details about the
program, then enlisting them in a 20-week training session to provide effective
ways of dealing with the difficulties of raising adolescents. So far, she says,
her visits have been well-received by parents; they share her eagerness to help
The Foundling launch the program. “It helps us learn from each other,” she
says. “We figure out which ideas work and which ones don’t.” Her goal is to
minimize disruptions in the foster care arrangements and improve parent/child
relationships.

McNulty has always loved being surrounded by children. She
and her husband of 20 years have three biological daughters, now ages 23, 18
and 17. But she gave no thought to becoming a foster parent until a family
friend told her of her own experiences. After learning about the opportunity to
help children in need, McNulty quickly became interested and attended an orientation
at The Foundling, which was founded in 1869 as a home for abandoned children. It’s
now been 12 years since she became a first-time foster parent, and she has
assisted many children along the way. Recently, the adoption of her first
foster child, who’s now 12, was finalized, and McNulty is currently fostering
two other young children.

Her
family has been extremely supportive since the beginning, she says. “When my
family learned about my interest in becoming a foster mother, everyone
encouraged the idea. My daughters were eager to have a brother.”

With
the leadership skills of foster parents like Sandra McNulty, along with support
from the entire Foundling staff, Baccaglini is certain that KEEP Safe is headed
in an optimistic direction. “All of
us in this system have to come together to create better responses to the
adolescent population. Until every child is protected, we can’t rest.
With the KEEP Safe Program, we’re one step
closer to reaching that goal,” he says. And he acknowledges that the foster
care system has certainly improved over the years.
No one can deny that today, this is a much
better child welfare system than it was 10 years ago,” he says, thanks to The
Foundling’s dedication to expanding its programming.

But even with the constant training,
workshops and informational sessions that The New York Foundling offers,
Baccaglini feels that there is always room for improvement.
“We uphold a
commitment to staying ahead of the curve, to anticipating tomorrow rather than
just reacting to it. It’s all about aiming to be socially relevant to the
times,” he says.

As for McNulty, foster care will always be
a part of her life. “As long as I am able to still give, I want to continue
doing it because there are so many children out there who need it,” she says.
“Hopefully if the
KEEP Safe program goes well, it will be another part of me.

When she’s not busy with The Foundling,
McNulty spends time with her family at the park or the movies, or can frequently
be found taking her kids to dance competitions or karate. She says living in
the city has helped her kids learn to be responsible and independent. And as
for motherhood? “
There’s no book that teaches you about being a mother,”
she says. “But I would definitely say that it’s a blessing.”

Photo: Sandra McNulty with her daughters Caitlin, 18; Samantha, 17 and her
son, Richard, 12, who was adopted from foster care. (She also has another biological
daughter, Liliana, 23, a granddaughter, Briana, 5, and two young foster children.) Photo by Andrew Schwartz.

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