Become part of the needed solution

By Steve Estes

As we approach the halfway point of 2013, we just left behind Foster Parent Appreciation Month, a time to thank those who provide a safe haven for the youth of our community who, for whatever reason, need someplace to go in the short term.

If you were to ask most who serve as foster parents in Monroe County, they would give varying reasons why they take in children who need some love and attention during a traumatic time.

But in this case, the publishing staff of this newspaper can speak with some degree of authority on the subject as they are foster parents.

In the final analysis, fostering is a satisfying and rewarding experience for the adults who put themselves out as surrogate parents.

Due to whatever traumatic event, many of these children enter a home unable to accept love and affection, unaware that a structured environment actually exists.

They may have been through multiple placements in recent history, and each time have been torn from someone, either biologically related or a concerned caregiver, that added to the trauma that initiated their entry into the system.

Oftentimes, social skills are horrendously underdeveloped. Life skills are almost non-existent. Some of the younger children are delayed in normal development activities such as walking and talking.

And others are extremely resilient, moving from situation to situation with ease, taking it all in stride and just waiting for the next crisis in their young lives.

It is the former that wind up being so rewarding for the foster parents, to watch the youngsters come out of their shell and join in the family routine. The first time a shell-shocked three-year old climbs into your lap for a good night snuggle is a moment that lives in memory for a lifetime.

When the young boy that has come into your home as a shy, detached, withdrawn young soul begins to prank the older kids just like a younger brother, you may have to dole out discipline, but you do it with an inward smile that could light a room.

The children, however, are always the real losers as the system bandies them about between biological and foster homes, trying to maintain the delicate balance between the needs of the child and the rights of the parents.

And the bridge between those two spheres of influence are the foster homes that open their doors and hearts time and time again to serve the needs of the children above all else.

Monroe County has but 14 certified foster homes. That’s a far cry from what is needed to adequately serve the needs of the kids who find themselves in these unfortunate situations.

Many who were, or are thinking about becoming, foster parents have left the system because of the heartache involved in watching the lives of these kids being tossed in the tug-of-war that is foster care.

Still others have left, or not become, the foster care program because of the disruption to normal family life that taking in traumatized youth can cause.

And make no mistake, disruption can be the norm.

And still others leave the system because there are so few that the existing homes get overloaded with children.

And that’s where you come in.

Wesley House Family Services is the local agency that deals with foster care. The agency has been around for a long time, balancing the needs of the children with the rights of the biological parents with the concerns of the foster homes, and all under the ultimate decision-making process of the family court.

Simply put, there are not enough foster homes in Monroe County. And that affects decisions made by the case managers and the courts.

To look into the eyes of a young child and not to be able to do something, is a heart-wrenching experience.

We need more folks willing to put on the mantle of foster parents.

You don’t have to be a married couple. You can be a committed couple, a single man or woman, a single parent, a couple with or without biological children of your own. There is no blueprint for what makes a good foster parent.

It all starts with a deep-rooted love for children and evolves from there.

Yes, there are classes and tests and qualifications for you to become part of the small cadre of people who spend excess love, affection, time and money providing a safe and nurturing environment for children in need of exactly that.

But it’s nothing that can’t be done.

And the emotional rewards make the initial effort more than worth it.

It all starts with a simple phone call.

That number is 305-809-5001.

Pick up the phone.

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