Foster parents in spotlight this Mother’s Day

Ken Kellar

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, thoughts are turning to those who have been there for us since our very first day.

However, just because a parent wasn’t there for a child’s first moment, doesn’t make them less important or impactful.

Barb Burkholder is a foster parent with the Kenora-Rainy River District Child and Family Services (KRRDCFS), and has been since 2007.

“I was a teacher for many years and I was teaching at the private school here at Mine Centre,” Burkholder recalls.

“I quit teaching in the spring of 2007 and thinking that I wanted to do something different… I finished teaching the middle of June, went away for 10 days holiday and came back and had a message on my phone saying there was a newborn that needed a place.”

That newborn would be Burkholder’s very first foster child, and she has since gone on to care for 14 different children.

KRRDCFS is an agency that works to support families in overcoming challenges they may be facing. Part of their services includes placing children with relatives or extended family who may be able to provide them with the support that they might otherwise not get in the home, for various reasons. When KRRDCFS can’t place a child into the care of a relative, foster parents like Burkholder are available to provide temporary care like she did for her newborn foster child in 2007.

“From there it just progressed,” she said.

“I did have him for just 30 days because he was adopted and then I had a permanent placement for a year. I specified infants and toddlers because I’m a single person and didn’t have a family to help with the older children, who need a little bit more. I had others that were short term. I had some that were a little longer and returned to their parents, or were adopted. After working with children for 28 years, I just couldn’t get away from it.”

Burkholder noted that she had known for a while that she would someday like to be a foster parent, so when she was building her house in 2005, she had it planned out with fostering in mind.

Of being a foster parent, Burkholder acknowledges that it’s not always an easy job, but she finds the experience to be an overwhelmingly positive one.

“I felt like the greatest fulfillment, or feeling, was giving a child a place where they are safe, and well taken care of,” she explained.

“Even in the little ones, you know, after they came home from a mommy or daddy visit it was just like suddenly, they would just relax, and they would sleep and sleep and sleep, because they just got that feeling: they’re home.”

As positive as the experience has been, Burkholder said that when she first started out, not knowing the system, she heard what she described as negative misconceptions around the foster system, such as around the subject of discipline, where Burkholder said foster parents have to learn to work with their child and the agency.

“There have been misconceptions about discipline. That is a very controversial subject, because we are not allowed to strike the child or anything like that,” she said.

“It is frustrating when you don’t know what method of discipline you can use for this child that will bring results, but [KRRDCFS] were always there to back me up… I had a three year old that was very, very distraught and would kick the wall and kick the dresser and bed and take tantrums. And what do you do? I could hold him tight, that was allowed, so that he would not harm himself. He could harm me, that was okay. But to bring harm to himself was what we tried to protect him from in that way.”

The agency works very closely with foster parents in the system for many reasons, and Burkholder explained that both she and her foster child have separate caseworkers who help them through the process.

“Family and Children Services have been a tremendous support and help and agency to work for,” she said.

“If I have frustrations or questions or something I go to my worker, or if I have questions about [my foster child’s] health or anything I go to his worker. My worker… connects with me about every two, three months. My annual [review] is coming up now next month. [My foster child’s worker] connects with me occasionally too, but he does a plan of care, and we go through all his health needs, culture. That’s coming up too. We will just do it over the phone.”

The agency also performs a number of home inspections as well, to ensure that any place a child is going to is a safe one.

“They have their times when they must do all the paperwork and keep that all up to date,” Burkholder said.

“They come and do a house check, making sure you have all your smoke alarms and your fire extinguisher and all that up to date and that there are no issues of safety. They check out the bedroom. After this many years we know what is expected of us.”

Burkholder also had advice for people who might be interested or willing to consider being a part of the foster system.

“It’s hard to put into just a few words,” she said.

“My niece, she married a widower with three teenage children and then they couldn’t have children so they just adopted three little brothers. And my advice to her was it’s very rewarding and very fulfilling. You get a wonderful, wonderful feeling of doing something for a child to keep them safe and well cared for. Another is be prepared. Prepare yourself.”

For those who aren’t ready to commit to being a foster parent, there’s also the possibility of becoming a respite worker with the agency. But regardless of what path prospective parents take, Burkholder said it’s important and fulfilling work, and she encourages those who are able to take part.

“I highly, highly encourage parents to get involved because there’s a real need,” she said.

“And if you can’t foster full-time, do respite. Be there. If you have friends who are fostering full-time, be there to support and give them a break, because I’m really facing that these months. It’s wonderful, wonderful, to have such good supports. So be a support or do respite for friends or get involved to know how to become a respite parent or worker.”

For more information about becoming a foster parent, contact the Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services.