By Jenna Quintin
Foster care isn't a popular subject. We hope that someone in the Department for Children and Families is taking care of the kids whose parents can't. We probably know someone who is or was connected to the system. But what is really happening to children in our community?
The DCF statistics for 2013 state they have 63 children in Reintegration/Foster Care in Harvey County. Saint Francis Community Services, who was awarded the state contract in 75 of 105 Kansas counties, sponsors 41 children placed with 10 licensed families in Harvey County.
St. Francis' Foster Care Supervisor, Joanna Bjerum and Resource Recruiter John Young shared a local look at foster care. Bjerum feels many people have misconceptions about foster care and child abuse. "These are amazing, resilient kids, doing kid stuff. They aren't bad kids, they are just in tough situations."
Newton has a small town feel, yet bad things still happen. Young and Bjerum said in our area parental drug use is one of the root causes for the child abuse, neglect and abandonment. These frequently lead to a child being removed from a home. Yet it's not a black and white situation with good guys and bad parents. "These parents are not choosing drugs over their children, they are addicted," said Bjerum. "It's not a lack of love."
What is needed is someone showing up for a child's life, making a difference by being there. Kinship or finding an approved relative to take care of a child is always priority, but isn't possible in every case.
While St. Francis has a high percentage of children reintegrated with their family, foster parents can fill in the gap until that happens. These are often folks who are naturally great parents, said Bjerum, people who do well parenting longer than the span of a childhood. Unfortunately, we are more likely to hear about bad cases. Foster parents can be powerful, positive role models.
When foster parents get to know a child's biological parents, noted Young, they end up providing mentorship, strength and support for an entire family. When this happens, children relax visibly as they know they can love everyone, without a sense of betrayal. Many foster parents keep in touch with children into adulthood.
These are not always "sunshiney" situations. Depending on age and circumstances, children and or their families may attend therapy sessions, either with Prairie View or St. Francis.
Young said they attempt to make good foster parent/child matches. This does not always work out. Things beyond a foster family's control such as illness or a grandparent moving in, can change their ability to provide care. When a child's behavior escalates as they deal with changing circumstances, a relationship may become unproductive and the child will be moved, said Bjerum.
St. Francis tries to avoid moving children away to prevent the loss of their birth family plus their school and other landmarks. Young said they currently have 17 children outside Harvey County because of a shortage of foster homes. This makes it complicated to bring a child back for family visits, court cases etc.
Bjerum said before someone decides they can't be a foster parent to find out information, or take foster parent training, Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting Program. This class is one evening a week for 10 weeks.
There are several simple ways to get involved. *Emergency care could mean opening up your home overnight to a child in transition. *Respite care one weekend a month can provide help for a foster family. *A teacher, a coach or someone concerned for specific child, can provide a non-relative kinship, where the training and licensing come after the child is in their home. *Short-term and long-term foster care can benefit many children. *Ambassadors in Action is a group which meets quarterly and focuses on connecting the community with the foster care system.
In the end, whatever your involvement, it's the relationships that count to children. As Bjerum said, where else can you have an impact on the world and your community from the comfort of your own home?