Most people would assume that, after raising nine children of their own, Penticton’s Edith van de Watering and her husband, Harry Niehe, were looking forward to an empty nest. However, Edith and Harry had other ideas.
“I’d been working as a psychologist for 20 years counselling foster families and adoptive families. I thought becoming a foster parent would allow me to practice what I had been preaching to my clients,” explains Edith. “And I really believed Harry and I could make a difference in the life of a child.”
Seven years ago while their two youngest children were still teenagers, Edith and Harry welcomed their first foster child. Five years later they also agreed to foster four young siblings. While the experience hasn’t been without its challenges, there have also been countless rewards.
“These children are so loving and full of wonder and discovery,” she says. “When we visited Vancouver Island by ferry, they had never been on a boat. They had never seen the ocean or picked seashells on the beach. It was a joy to see them filled with so much awe and excitement about what they were experiencing for the very first time.”
Edith says people who make the decision to open their hearts and homes to foster children must be willing to fully embrace their new role as a kind and supportive life coach and mentor.
“It’s a good thing to be idealistic, but potential foster parents have to be realistic as well. For example, a child who has been subjected to trauma or prenatal exposure to substances is not going to be a typical child. The expectation that you can somehow create a typical child is unrealistic,” she says. “Rather, the goal is to provide children with a loving, stable and positive environment and guidance based on their individual needs so they can develop to their fullest potential.”
One year ago, Caregiver Support Networks (CSN) were formed in communities throughout British Columbia. Each CSN is led by an experienced foster parent who provides support and encouragement to as many as eight foster families. Edith and Harry meet with their CSN group regularly. As a foster parent with 20 years of experience, CSN support home leader Kathy Tait is well-versed in the challenges and rewards associated with foster parenting.
“Foster parenting is like an unknown frontier – a subculture that no one really understands until they experience it for themselves,” she explains. “It’s very different than it was when we first become foster parents. There is so much more support and training and education. You need an emotional IQ to do this work and I am grateful there is a focus on nurturing the emotional health of the kids and their foster families.”
Like Edith, Kathy also urges potential foster parents to think carefully about making the commitment to care for a vulnerable child.
“Examine your heart and your reasons for doing this and be honest with yourself. Also, talk to other foster families and get their perspectives,” she says. “We once had a troubled kid placed with us and I thought if I could get through to this child I could make it through anything. Today, we have a great relationship and he’s just so thankful that we stuck it out with him. Foster parenting can be incredibly rewarding that way.”
October is Foster Family Month in B.C – an opportunity to honour the integral role foster families play in creating the building blocks children need to prepare them for a better future. If you are 19 years and older and have the time, effort, patience and desire to make a difference in the life of a child please visit www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/foster or call the Foster Line toll-free at 1 800 663-9999.
- Foster family homes are the primary placement resource for children in care in B.C.
- These homes support children and teens who are unable to live with their traditional family for reasons of abuse, neglect, emergency or tragedy.
- 60% of children in care in B.C. are Aboriginal compared to only 12% of B.C.’s foster parents. There is a need for more Aboriginal families willing to foster so that all children in care can maintain their cultural and community connections.
- Foster parents must be in good physical and mental health. They receive training and undergo background, criminal record and reference checks. On average, the approval process takes three months.
- Once the approval process is successfully completed, new foster parents sign an agreement outlining their responsibilities and complete the 53-hour B.C. Foster Care Education Program within two years.
Foster Family Month in B.C information kits: www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/foster/ffm.htm
Interested in fostering? Call the Foster Line toll-free at 1 800 663-9999 or visit: www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/foster
B.C. Federation of Foster Parent Associations: www.bcfosterparents.ca/