Urgent need for foster parents across district

One home in Rainy River District has opened its doors to foster children in need for nearly 10 years, and the foster parents say they wouldn’t think twice about doing it all over again.
They say it’s challenging and sometimes difficult, but that the rewards outweigh it all—despite the devastating loss of a foster son to a terminal illness earlier this year.
His brother also lives with the couple and he, too, suffers from the same terminal illness.
Although this husband and wife wished to remain anonymous, they endorsed their conviction that more area residents should step forward and take up the cause to foster parenting.
“I would suggest that if you have an open heart and an open mind, and are willing to give lots of hugs, have tears on your shoulder, some sleepless nights—wear your heart on your sleeve—you are an ideal foster parent,” said the husband.
“There is more than enough love out there to give children an opportunity,” he stressed.
“Personally, I was in the [foster care] system,” added his wife, speaking of her own childhood. “I was adopted twice and in several foster homes. My explanation [to encourage others] is that I had very positive experiences.
“It is rewarding to help turn some of these kids around so that they can see that there are positive things in being clean from drugs, positive things in getting an education.
“They need lots of love and patience—they don’t have it easy,” she remarked.
Their appeal for fellow foster parents comes at a critical time. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies recently reported a foster care recruitment crisis in Ontario.
There simply are not enough foster homes available to look after the increasing number of children coming into care.
It’s an issue hitting close to home right here in Rainy River District, where only 41 foster homes are available.
Foster care co-ordinator Christa Werenko works for Family and Children’s Services in Fort Frances. When asked what the best-case scenario would be in terms of numbers of foster homes needed, she hesitated to assign a figure.
“I don’t know that there is a dream number,” she noted earlier this month. “The more, the merrier.”
The local Family and Children’s Services’ jurisdiction stretches east to Atikokan and west throughout Rainy River District. Especially critical is the need for foster homes east of here and, overall, ones for adolescents and teenagers.
“Atikokan has a really high need for foster care right now,” said Werenko. “Here [in Fort Frances], we are fairly stable but it tends to fluctuate all the time.
“We always need more foster parents, [especially] for teenagers,” she added.
“Provincially, the need is growing,” agreed Betty-Anne MacKintosh, manager of community services at FACS here. She also noted that The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies reported a 46 percent increase in the number of children in care since 1998. “Although the number of children in care at our agency has remained relatively stable, we’ve seen overall growth in the demand for our services,” she noted.
Werenko said a larger base of foster parents leads to a more compatible environment for all involved, which plays a vital role in the successful future of a foster child.
“The more foster homes we have, the more able we are to make a good match between a foster home and the needs of the child,” she explained. “If we have a small population of foster homes, you are not [always] able to do that.”
The real downside to limited local foster care is having to place children in group homes outside their own community, which limits access to their biological family and their friends, and can create an unnecessary disruption in already unsettled lives.
Not to mention the expense of it all.
“Keeping kids in the community—that’s always the focus. We don’t want to have to move them around,” Werenko stressed. “The goal is to make that transition as smooth as possible.”
Foster parents don’t go the road alone. FACS provides many services and supports, including mental health and child development services, as well as respite services, which allows foster parents to take a break.
A children’s aid worker is assigned to each child who comes into a foster home, as well as Werenko, who provides added support to the foster family.
A per diem for each child who comes into the foster home, and other financial supports, also are put in place.
Interested foster parents must undergo an application process that includes an interview and home visits by FACS, as well as a criminal record check.
“Foster parents can come from all walks of life [and] the rewards outweigh the risks,” reiterated Werenko. “There are always going to be challenges, whether it’s with teenagers or little ones.
“The rewards, I think, are bringing a child into your home and offering them love, support, and guidance,” she concluded.
Oct. 16-22 is Canadian Foster Family Week and foster families across the country are being recognized for their invaluable contributions to the lives of children in need.
For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact FACS at 274-7787.