WATERLOO REGION — Foster parents in normal circumstances go the extra mile; fostering during COVID-19 is even tougher.
Carrie Johnston of Breslau said that eight and half years of fostering has restructured her family’s lives in many ways.
“We welcome these children as parts of our families. And then, knowing that there will be an end to that, is heartbreaking. I think they’re some of the bravest people for just being willing to be open to receiving these children into our homes and loving them the best we can.”
Johnston’s family fosters newborns, often accepting them right from the hospital. Using the colloquial language of being “a baby home,” Johnston said they decided to become foster parents to help children who needed a place to be safe until they can go back to their families.
“We support the unification of the children with their families and we just knew we had a good home to offer, so we got involved.”
Foster Parent Appreciation Week, recognized nationally, runs this week. October also marks Child Abuse Prevention Month, which highlights the needs of vulnerable children, youth and families.
Victor Santiago, family recruitment worker with Family & Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region, said the agency always looks forward to this week every year.
“In the past we have held formal dinners and catered receptions where foster families are invited to attend,” Santiago said. “There they receive gifts and in-person gratitude from staff and members of the community for the work they do.
“Due to COVID-19 we have had to move everything to the safety of their homes. They will be receiving personalized gifts in the mail as well as multimedia messages from staff, community members and fellow foster parents.”
Explaining why this week is so important, Santiago said that foster parents are “often not very visible parts of the community for privacy reasons, yet they are pillars to the well-being of families, children and youth in Waterloo Region.”
Santiago said parents have latitude to express who they want to foster, and that the agency takes into account skill level and resources families have through an equity lens.
“Obviously we want parents to be open, but if we have a single-parent that works outside the home, a newborn baby may not work for that foster parent. It is really is all about making sure that a placement is realistic and fits with the situation of that foster parent so we avoid situations like placement breakdowns, which are hard for both the children and the foster family.”
Marsha Ferguson, a full-time special needs worker in education, offers respite care for the agency.
“We provide weekend relief and in the summer we have been on call to do emergency receiving after hours or longer placements if needed,” Ferguson said. “We have also had the same children back, to have consistency for them if their families need it.”
She said that fostering these past 16 years has taught her three children to be kind, helpful and compassionate to others in need.
“We decided to foster to give back. We had seen advertisements that the agency was looking for foster parents. We took the course and we haven’t looked back.”
Ferguson said that while this experience is not for everyone, it has been a great experience to make such a difference in someone’s life.
“We have had so many lovely children come into our home, and as we have always said, ‘There is always room for one more.’”
Santiago said he was surprised to find that most foster parents reported positive experiences during COVID.
“Foster families have told us how they have had to slow down, and have gotten to know each other better and become closer,” Santiago said. “We also have heard that for some children and youth, their academics have improved.
“While it hasn’t all been a cake walk, we see that the commitment to providing care and stability to children and youth is really the key to successful fostering — even during a global pandemic.”
Currently more than 80 children have had to be placed in homes outside the region as there are not enough local foster parents. People interested in becoming foster parents can email Family and Children’s Services at email@example.com or call 519-576-0540 and ask for recruitment. www.fosteringkids.ca