When one is needed, there is nobody more important in a young person's life than a foster parent, and there can never be too many generous and warm-hearted people willing to care for children in need of a safe and secure home.
Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville is undertaking a recruitment campaign to find more people willing to open their homes to young people who, for one reason or another, are unable to remain in theirs. The recruitment campaign also seeks to correct some misinformation that many people seem to believe about foster parenting, chiefly the idea that foster parents take care of their charges for many years or even for the entire length of their childhood. This is very seldom the case.
"It's not our goal for foster children to stay in foster care for years," says Tyler Holmes, an assessment and recruitment worker with Family and Children's Services.
It's also not true that children are necessarily removed from the home when Family and Children's Services gets involved. In fact, in almost all cases, the organization can work with a family and provide support and counsel sufficient to resolve the problems that occasioned their involvement. And when a child must be removed from the home, the first priority is to place him or her with another family member. Only when that is not possible is a foster parent required.
In most cases, when a foster parent is called upon, it's for a short period of time and the priority in these cases is then to resolve the situation as quickly as possible so the child can be returned safely to his or her own home.
"It's definitely less and less frequent that a child just stays in foster care," says Holmes.
More insight into what it takes to be a foster parent and what it means to the children they care for will be available at two information sessions that Family and Children's Services will be hosting in the hopes of finding more people interested in helping kids in need of a soft place to fall.
There are presently about 60 foster parents in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, but there is always a significant need for more, and the two information sessions will give anybody interested a better idea of what foster parenting is all about. Not only will representatives from Family and Children's Services be there to answer questions, but there will be a presentation by current foster parents and an opportunity to talk to them as well.
"It's going to be a unique opportunity to get a real inside look into what it's like to be a foster parent," says Holmes.
The first information session takes place on Wednesday, January 22 and the second on Wednesday, February 26. Both take place at Wall Street United Church in Brockville and run from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
No special credentials or qualifications are required to be a foster parent, and the program accepts both couples and single parents, but Family and Children's Services does look favourably on applicants who have some experience with kids.
"We're interested in people who have a background in providing care for children," says Holmes.
The process of becoming a foster parent is a rather thorough one, and it's intended not only to assure Family and Children Services that the applicants are up to the task but also the applicants that becoming foster parents is right for them. The process begins with a visit from a Family and Children's Services representative, who will interview the applicant and conduct an evaluation of the applicant's home to make sure it's a safe and healthy environment for kids.
"There isn't often too much that they need to do to get the house up to the level of a foster home," says Holmes.
Once approved applicants will then take part in a training program, which will fully equip them to take on their role as a source of hope and comfort to kids often in desperate need of both. The training program involves 27 hours of instruction delivered over nine evenings in either weekly or bi-weekly sessions.
Quite often, the first thing a new foster parent does, just to get acclimated, is provide respite care, which means taking on a child for no more than a day or two, just to give his or her family a helping hand and perhaps a chance to rest and regroup.
"That's a way people generally like to start out," says Holmes.
It's also important that potential foster parents understand that they aren't taking on this important role alone. Once a child is placed in a foster home, Family and Children's Services keeps in regular contact with the foster parents and the organization provides 24-hour support should any issues arise. There is also a kind of peer support network of other foster parents who can be called upon for advice and assistance.
"The idea is that we're all working together to provide a safe, healthy and happy experience for the child," says Holmes.
Some foster parents also have preferences, often for a particular age group, and Family and Children's Services does its best to accommodate them. Presently, there is a particular need for foster parents willing to welcome teenagers into their home. Though foster parents are not given access to a foster child's complete personal file, they are given all the information they need to create a safe and secure environment for everyone involved, including any particular vulnerabilities, sensitivities or special needs a young person might have.
Being a foster parent is a big responsibility and it's not always easy, but it is always rewarding to know that you have helped a family make a better life for their children and provided those children the very thing they need when they most need it.
"We want to create a sense of belonging, a sense of home for the child," says Holmes.
Anybody interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent is invited to attend one of the upcoming information sessions or contact Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville at 613-498-2100.