If you think you know what being a foster parent in 2019 looks like, you probably haven’t talked to Sandy Case, president of the Vancouver Island (South) Foster Parent Association and 25-year foster caregiver.
October is Foster Family Month in B.C., honouring British Columbians who step in to care for children and youth who, for many different reasons, are unable to live with their families.
A lot has changed since a social worker showed up at Case’s home to bring her the first children she would care for back in 1994.
“My husband was in the navy then and while he was gone, my first placement showed up,” Case said. “They were a pair of 16-month-old twins and their 7-month-old baby sister. My biological children were six and 10 years old. I bundled them all up and met my husband at the jetty, and the first words out of my children’s mouths were, ‘Dad, look what we got!’ pointing to the babies.”
Case estimates she’s cared for about 125 foster children — from babies to 5-year-olds — and describes fostering as “the hardest experience you’ll ever love.”
What’s different now is the relationship building that’s inherent to a foster parent’s role. “Nowadays, it’s all about how to keep children connected to the most significant relationships in their lives and to provide some form of consistency, which is vital to a child’s mental health,” Case said, referring to the open communication that is encouraged.
Wherever possible, families get the support to either have the child returned to their care or an arrangement that lets them stay active in the child’s life. Sometimes that consistency is achieved by finding extended family members who can care for the child.
If adoption has to be explored after all other avenues have been exhausted, Case said, it might be an open adoption. This approach gives children support from more than one family unit, which can be complicated, yet enriching.
While children don’t have a choice about coming into care, Case would like the public to think about how parents end up in difficult positions — often as a result of their own childhood trauma, which gets passed on. They don’t have the support systems that healthy families typically have.
Another thing that’s changed, Case said, is how children are transitioned back to birth parents or to adoptive parents and how much work goes into that through a gradual, carefully planned process. She said that once children have transitioned back to their family, it’s the foster parent who can also provide respite. She’s currently offering respite care to a single mother of four young boys. Sometimes, foster children keep in contact with their foster parents years later as well.
“When children show up, you don’t know whether they’ll be with you for a week, a month or a couple of years.”
And she’s not afraid to admit that transitioning the children back to family can be bittersweet. “I’m happy that they are going back to a permanent situation. At the same time, I’m sad because I have been their ‘Nana,’ especially if they’ve been in my care for a long time. I usually go into my closet and have a good cry when the transition is complete.”
“I’ve learned to tell myself that maybe just one thing I did while they were with me, and the love I showed them, is something they will carry with them no matter where they are.”
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, visit: https://fosternow.gov.bc.ca/
- While the Ministry of Children and Family Development is providing greater supports to keep families together when it is safe to do so, resulting in fewer children coming into care in the first place, there is still a need for skilled caregivers to care for children who cannot safely live with their parents.
- As of April 2019, government has raised support payments to foster parents by an additional $179 per month to help cover the basic necessities for children in their care, including food, clothing and shelter. This was the first increase in 10 years.
- There are about 2,425 family-based foster homes in B.C. and there is always a need for more to represent the diversity of children and youth in care in need of caregivers.
- On Aug. 31, 2019, there were 4,169 (2,928 Indigenous and 1,241 non-Indigenous) children and youth in foster care in B.C.
- There are fewer Indigenous children and youth in care now than at any time since 2014.
- Through the Extended Family Program, relatives can be supported to provide care for children and youth from their extended family to keep them in their communities and connected to important relationships and cultural heritage and practices.
BC Federation of Foster Parent Association: https://bcfosterparents.ca/
Indigenous Caregivers of BC: fostercaregiversbc.ca
Call the fostering line: 1 800 663-9999