While October marked the 27 anniversary of Foster Family Month in B.C., Colleen Johnson, a recruitment worker for the foster parent campaign in the Agassiz and Hope regions, has pointed out that it’s not so much a time of celebration as it is a time to respond to an urgent need for foster families in our communities.
“We are in crisis. We have only about 10 regular foster families in Hope right now and there’s a desperate need for caregivers who will open up their hearts and homes to youth and children in need of help,” explained Johnson.
“There’s a desperate shortage of care givers in the community and we need people to step forward to help care for these children.”
She explained that the children who are in need of foster care are those who have been removed from their homes for a wide variety of reasons, with a common concern being for their health and safety.
“If their safety or well-being is in jeopardy, we step in and act on the child’s behalf. Of course the first step is always prevention and counselling, but there are instances when the parents of these children are facing challenges too great to overcome on the short term and the children have to be removed from the home. That’s when foster families step in and provide the care these children deserve,” said Johnson.
“Every child deserves to be surrounded by people who love them and will take good care of them.”
The problem with not having enough foster care within the community is that children who can’t be placed within the community may have to be taken away from the surroundings they know and moved to foster homes elsewhere on the lower mainland.
“That means that these children leave their communities, lose touch with their friends, change schools, and generally have their lives totally disrupted at the same time as they are being separated from the only family they know,” explained Johnson.
One of the exacerbating problems of the foster system in Hope is that some of the foster care families are getting older (the average age is 54) and are retiring from providing the much needed service.
“These are some of the finest people in our community. They’re people who have wanted to make a difference in the life of a child and wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way. But we all get older and it’s time for the next generation to step up and help,” she said.
Families who offer their help to foster children are vetted to ensure their suitability, and then training is provided to prepare those families for the arrival of a foster child. The Ministry then compensates families with enough funds to care for the child.
They understand that foster children can range in age from infant to 18 years-of-age and that the length of stay for a foster child in any given foster care home can range from relatively short term placements to placements that last for years.
There have even been a few instances where, after many years of fostering a child, and with no prospect of that child returning to birth parents, foster families have chosen to adopt their foster child, formally bringing them into their family.
“That’s a rare occurrence, of course, but it does indicate how close these relationships can become.”
Another aspect of the foster system to which Johnson is very sensitive is the question of First Nations children entering foster care.
“There has been a lot of discussion around trying to place First Nations children into culturally appropriate foster care and we do that whenever possible, but it relies on those foster families stepping forward.”
An information session for those wishing to become foster families, or for those who simply require information on the program, will be held on Nov.9 at the Ministry of Children and Family Development at 833-3rd Ave. in Hope, between 10.am. and 11:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in the program is invited.
Alternatively, more information is also available at fosteringconnections.ca or by calling Johnson at 604-316-4599.