By: Christine Nicco/TRT Reporter—
PITTSFIELD, Mass.—In 2014, there were more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Currently, organizations such as Devereux Foster Care are combating this statistic locally as it seeks homes for hundreds of children and youth in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The Rainbow Times recently caught up with the organization’s management to discuss what goes into the foster care process and how specifically the LGBTQ community can change the lives of those most vulnerable among us, including LGBTQ-identified youth.
TRT: Devereux has a successful foster care program that is currently seeking LGBTQ parents. Why reach out to the LGBTQ community?
Devereux: Devereux recognizes that our search for loving homes for children in foster care should be diverse. We are seeking caring, responsible and loving adults. Marital status, sexual orientation, religion and cultural backgrounds don’t define our successful foster parents. What does define them is that they are willing to commit to serving our population of vulnerable children.
Q: Do any of your foster kids identify as LGBTQ? If so, is it more difficult to find foster homes for the LGBTQ children or is it the same?
A: Some of our clients do identify as LGBTQ. At times it can be challenging to find appropriate matches for them. The foster children/youth that come into therapeutic foster care have been traumatized in some way whether sexual, physical or emotional; at any given time any of these children/youth may be challenging to find an appropriate home for. Often times they might come with a negative view of caretakers and present as very guarded. Some children/youth have a particular type of family they would like to be placed with in regard to race, single parent homes, two-parent homes and same sex couples. Given that fact Devereux continues to seek out a diverse population so all children/youth feel welcome and comfortable in the foster homes in which they are placed.
Q: What do you look for from the foster family when placing a child?
A: We work closely with our families on making the most appropriate matches when placing a child. The families become active and critical members of the child’s treatment team. We expect that they will support the child through their treatment and provide them a consistent and loving home environment. One of the best qualities a potential foster parent can have is compassion and a willingness to hang in when things get tough. All too often children/youth are given up on because of their behaviors, despite evidence that shows that children/youth will begin to address their trauma histories and act out behaviorally in a home that makes them feel safe and secure.
Q: Approximately how many children are waiting placement? What is the average age?
A: Across Mass. and Rhode Island, on any given month, Devereux receives referrals for close to a hundred children/youth that need foster homes. Children range in age from infancy to 21. The infants we serve are typically medically involved; born drug addicted, diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome or born premature. There is a great need for foster homes for teenagers and youth with disabilities such as autism as there are not enough foster homes open to providing care to this population of youth. A majority of the teens in need of foster care are placed in group homes where they are waiting for their foster family. Some remain in group homes until they are 18 because those families are never found.
Q: What is the average length of time that a child needs to be fostered? Can that placement turn into adoption?
A: In Mass. and Rhode Island, the average placement lasts 8-12 months. In the event the biological families are unable to achieve their service goals, the case plan may turn from reunification to adoption. Foster families are often the first to be approached about their interest in adoption if this happens. Many foster homes do adopt their foster children.
Q: Does the agency provide support to foster parents if needed?
A: Devereux provides a high level of support to our families because we recognize that we are serving a very vulnerable population of children. A Devereux worker is assigned to each foster home and conducts weekly home visits to be able to meet with the child and family to ensure that the proper services are in place and the foster parent has the necessary “tools” to be successful. Devereux works closely with foster parents on scheduling these visits to ensure we are meeting at a time that is convenient for the family.
Devereux also offers emergency 24-hour on-call support to all foster families. Foster parents can feel free to utilize this after hours support in the event of a crisis related to their child or if they have questions that can’t wait until the next business day. In addition, Devereux workers will attend essential meetings relevant to the child with the foster parent such as IEP meetings at schools, Foster Care Reviews, and Treatment Team meetings.
Another huge aspect of the support provided to foster parents is regular and relevant training. Devereux offers monthly training opportunities for foster parents regarding relevant topics/skills. Devereux works closely with foster parents around their development and will support external training opportunities to meet the training needs of each individual family.
Q: What have you been told is the most rewarding part of the process for foster parents? For the children?
A: Our foster parents share with us regularly that they feel so positively about the fact that they are able to support their children with feeling safe and secure in their foster home. For some children, worrying about whether they would have their next meal or whether or not they were going to be safe were a constant part of their lives in their biological homes. Many foster parents feel rewarded by knowing that they are making a difference in the life of a child/youth. You develop a knack for celebrating the small daily successes. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child that has been exposed to things a child never should be exposed to smile because of something we may view as a minor thing such as being given a new toy or article of clothing or more simply a hug.
Q: If someone is interested in being a foster parent, what should they do now?
A: If someone has it in their heart to be a foster parent they should feel free to call one of our Devereux offices and ask questions. All of our Devereux staff is trained to speak with inquiries. We are all committed to spreading the word about foster care. It is not our motive to recruit everyone. It is our motive to be honest and address any questions or concerns you may have about becoming a foster parent for a child in need.
Data shows that the average foster parent will have contemplated whether or not they wanted to foster 9 times before moving forward with the process. We recognize that this is a big decision. We want to provide as much information to the general public to be able to make informed decisions about pursuing this challenging yet rewarding journey of improving the lives of children.
If you are interested becoming a foster parent or have other questions about Devereux’s Foster Care Program, please visit http://goo.gl/yagAkK.