Information night aimed at foster, adoptive parents

FORT FRANCES—Foster parenting and adoption are two parenting options that often are misunderstood by the general public.
As such, Family and Children’s Services of the District of Rainy River is hosting an information night next Wednesday (April 18) in an effort to dispel the myths and inform people how they can make a difference in a child’s life.
“It’s an opportunity to ask questions in an informal, casual atmosphere,” said Christa Werenko, the foster care co-ordinator for FACS.
“There’s fears out there of what foster parenting is,” she added.
“We’re trying to correct these myths,” echoed Marty Nelson, the adoption co-ordinator for FACS.
One of the reasons for this information night is the pressing need for foster parents in the district, Werenko noted.
In 2000, for instance, there were 25 children in care in Rainy River District. There are now more than 45.
“We have 36 foster homes and we’re always looking for more,” Werenko remarked. “The trend appears to be an increase in need.”
The reason for this increase is difficult to identify, but partially can be attributed to changes in standards with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services in the late 1990s.
“It was a more structured and consistent way of working with families,” Werenko explained. “It gave a better evaluation of families, and as a result, more children came into care.”
Children can be put into care for any number of reasons, including abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional), substance abuse by the parents, neglect, and abandonment.
As for adoption, while no children in the district are in need of adoptive homes now, there were 4,000 children in Ontario in need of permanent homes as of November, 2006.
“I get profiles for children from across the province,” Nelson said.
Those profiles can be compared with interested families here.
But even adoptions are on the rise locally—there will have been six adoptions completed in the district within a two-year period. In past years, FACS staff facilitated perhaps one adoption a year.
“There’s been a great jump in adoptions,” Werenko noted.
Part of the goal of the information night, which will run from 7-9 p.m., is to not only inform people of what foster and adoptive parenting entails, but also to recruit new caregivers.
“In terms of foster parents, it’s wide open. Single, married, retired, same-sex couples. We need homes for all different types of children,” Werenko explained.
“It’s all about how that person is as a caregiver,” Nelson noted.
At the meeting, FACS staff will explain the process and offer comments from people who have experienced it first-hand.
“We’ll have a foster parent and a youth who’s in care to talk about the experiences directly,” Werenko said.
The co-ordinators also will explain the new home study process.
“We used to have two different home studies—one for foster and one for adoptive parents,” she explained. “Now it’s the same for both.”
There are important differences between adoption and fostering, and many different ways to be a foster parent.
“When you adopt, you are the child’s legal guardian,” Werenko explained, whereas a foster child remains a ward of the Crown.
“Children can be in care for a short period of time or a long period of time,” she added.
Short-term can mean a few months while long-term can mean upwards of five years.
Some families only foster on the weekends to provide respite to full-time foster families. “There’s a lot of options,” Werenko said.
The first priority for a child in care is to return them to their own family. But when that’s not possible, it’s important to have good foster families that can care for them in the meantime.
Both Werenko and Nelson said each case is evaluated individually to determine what is the best option for the child in question.
“There’s a number of different factors,” Werenko said. “Twelve-, 13-, 14-year-olds may not be as interested. They have to consent to the adoption.”
A very young child, however, may be better off with a permanent family, rather than remaining in the system until they turn 18.
“One of the new things we’d like to look at is fostering with a view to adoption,” Werenko added.