The challenges and rewards of foster parenting

When a family is plunged into crisis children need someone to stand in the gap for them – and what a privilege it is to fill that gap. In the simplest of terms, that describes the foster parent.

Children need foster care for lots of reasons. The reasons vary but needs of each child don’t. All children need love, respect, understanding and a sense of belonging. It is critical for the committed foster parent and family to build a relationship with the foster child that overcomes fear, alienation and isolation.

May is recognized as the National Foster Care Appreciation and Awareness month but every day in the month of the year is cause for foster care appreciation and awareness.  Awareness is needed in our nation (and action) and specifically in our state and more specifically in our county and local region because there is a significant need for foster parents to provide homes and care for children, teens and families presenting with need for substitute quality parenting when their birth family is not able to care for them. When a family experiences tough times or crisis and children experience cause for out of home placement, foster parents are needed to help.

Therapeutic Services Agency, Inc., a local foster care service agency that has been licensed by the MN Department of Human Services since 1978 to provide licensing activity to support families in their foster parenting in Pine County and beyond, recently saw three of their licensed foster parents and licensor, Wendy Rude Pangerl, LSW attend a national conference in New Orleans. This was a first-time experience to see local foster parents attend a national conference, but the Quality Parenting Initiative theme of this conference was inspirational and important to participate in. The organization and its foster parents have always been committed to quality foster parenting but this conference further advanced the opportunities to zero in on developing philosophy and approaches to foster parenting that support optimal care. The conference attending three foster mothers share their personal  heartwarming stories:    

Toni and Jeremy Crowell

“We have been fostering parents for four years. I work, and our children are in daycare. After making the decision to be foster parents, we had referrals during our first year but no placements. During the second year, a boy and girl who are siblings were placed with us, followed by a foster son the next year. All three children required an adoptive home. This is how we built our family. Seeing our children come in with trauma and then witness their healing transformations has been so rewarding. It has taken a lot of effort, lots of training, self-denial, lessons to learn but so worth it.”

Heather and Juan Cortez

“We have four of our own children and for the past year and a half we’ve taken in six foster children. Because my husband Juan was a foster child, he always wanted to do foster care. By working with all collaborators, successful reunification of the child to the birth family has always been our primary objective. Our greatest reward is to see our foster kids back home again.”

“Fostering with our own children works well. It’s been beneficial for them. We talked to them about fostering from the time they were little and it opened up their world. My own children have been good models for the foster kids. It’s been such a blessing.”

April and Joe Anderson

“Three years after becoming foster parents, we have welcomed 16 foster children into our home, both individuals and siblings, five months to 18 years old. It’s been lots of hard work but so rewarding. We were new at parenting since we didn’t have any of our own children. As a youth, I saw lots of difficult situations and wanted to be that safe haven for children in trouble. So we just got started and plan to continue.”

National recognition

Foster parents deserve appreciation for doing the important work they are doing in caretaking children during times when they can’t be with their families. And the children and families do appreciate them. And as a nation, state, county, and community; we appreciate foster parents. For it is in these times of turbulence when a steady caring home and family can make all the difference in the lives of children and youths. But they don’t have to do this work alone because when children and youths are placed in out of home care, a support team is provided them. At TSA, each child has a Treatment Team  comprised of the foster family, family therapist, mental health practitioners, Case Manager, TSA Social worker and Youth Care Worker. This team meets weekly for child specific assessment, care and treatment planning, collaboration, coordination with schools and communication with all those involved. This collaborative model has been highly effective to meet the primary goal of the foster care program – reuniting the child or youth with his/her family or plan for an alternative permanency plan which most often is adoption. Financial support to provide foster care and adoption is provided.

Licensing process

Applicants must be able to provide quality care, positive child rearing practices and a healthy and safe environment with adequate space in their homes. The licensing process involves an assessment of the foster care applicants, their family members and physical home environment.

Requirements and expectations are set by the State of Minnesota. Home studies to learn about family dynamics, matching foster kids to families and complete licensing criteria are available by contacting TSA.

Once foster parents are licensed, they can choose which program works best for them. If they select Therapeutic Foster Care, they work through the Adolescent Treatment and Child Treatment Programs to provide care. Initially, the foster parents receive six hours of special training from TSA then a minimum of 12 hours annually.  As well, the Treatment Team approach is particularly supportive. And there is always support and care available 24/7 to support foster parents.

Who can be foster parent?

In addition to families, men or women who are single, working or retired can be foster parents. And for persons who don’t feel they can foster parent full time, people can help other full time foster parents by providing respite care. A variety of foster families able and willing to help with varying capacities for time availability and readiness to help, contributes to the resource base to help kids in need. The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” rings true and foster parents helping in times when help is needed, makes for big differences in the lives of children and strengthens families and communities.  The Quality Parenting Initiative is foundational guidance to the endeavor of foster parenting and there are plenty of experienced professionals and foster parents at TSA ready to support new foster parents.  

All three women agree that they are doing the right thing for their families and are encouraged to hear others say the same thing. That’s validation. All three acknowledged the emotional benefits of foster parenting. Toni remarked, “Guess it’s because we have hearts that are big enough. That’s one of the qualities that makes good foster parents.”   

Successful foster parenting is a highly collaborative endeavor between caregivers, agency staff and birth parents. They form a team whose focus is providing comfort and support for affected children. There’s an urgent need for more parents to open their homes and hearts to vulnerable youth. Consider joining this worthy effort.

For more information, contact Wendy Pangerl, Foster Care Licensing Social Worker at Therapeutic Services Agency, 320-629-7816.