Monday, July 19, 2010

State Agency Recruits Foster Care Parents and Families

L.A. Watts Times
July 15, 2010


Elizabeth Gaines has always desired to have at least more than a dozen children, just like her grandmother, who had 14. For years she considered foster care but thought her complicated life as a single mom would cause a problem.

Then one day, she just made the commitment.

“I’ve been a foster care parent for a little over a year but I had to put it on hold because I didn’t want to bring children into a lot of confusion,” Gaines said. “I woke up and decided, ‘This is it; I’m going to do it.’ ”
Her own beautician was a foster parent and talked often about the rewards, challenges and the difference having a family made in her children’s lives. That spiked Gaines’ interest even more.

She already had five children: one was 12, while the others were 13, 23, 26 and 33. But she felt that adding the teenage boys to her family was the right thing to do.

“The foster boys were 15 and 16 when they came, and I was afraid, but they’re great. The rewards for my younger boys have been great. I mean, siblings will do this and that and fight, but there’s a certain kind of rapport they’ve developed,” Gaines said. “My oldest (foster care) son, now 17, he’s a leader and that’s been positive because they’ve been without male figures for so long.”

She said they manage their challenges as growing experiences, and she realizes that the boys are in situations that they had no control over, so she keeps their past in the past to keep them progressing as a happy family and toward a positive future.

“Some people get into foster care just for the money, but if it’s not naturally in your heart to care for the children, you won’t be successful, and the kids will know that it’s all about the dollar,” Gaines said. “When the child hits their door is when reality will kick in for them, so it has to come from the heart.”

The L.A. resident attributes part of her family’s manageability to the support she has received from Aspiranet, her foster care agency.

The nonprofit, statewide family foster care and adoption organization began in 1971 as a six-bed group home for boys, and has expanded into a network of programs and services to more than 9,300 children and families annually.

Gaines said she often gravitates to the parent support group and she likes the open-door policy.

“They give incentives to the children through programs like financial planning and responsibility classes,” she said. “They emphasize education, and I’m learning a lot myself.”

In May, which is National Foster Care Month, Aspiranet launched the Hero Initiative to encourage potential foster parents and families to get involved and help make a difference in the lives of one or more of California’s 75,000 children in foster care.

The new campaign was developed around its core values of respect, integrity, courage and hope, said Andrea Helzer, district administrator for Aspiranet.

Fear is sometimes a barrier between good foster parents, families and foster children, but parents would have access to social workers on a weekly basis for whatever support, resources, intervention or therapy they would need to make the journey less scary and more manageable, she said.

While Aspiranet has experienced no placement gap among various ethnicities, Helzer said, teenagers are the most common placement referral and the most difficult to find homes for because of a lot of people’s prejudice against them and the foster care stigma.

Foster parents and families prefer cute, young children, believing they can make a difference in their lives if they get them earlier, but they can well impact the lives of teenagers too, she added.

“Teenagers are able to express their anger and sadness, whereas the little children just know they’re sad and angry, but aren’t able to articulate that and sometimes act out,” Helzer said.

In recruiting families for teens and sibling sets, Aspiranet implements outreach in Watts, Compton and Inglewood to help increase chances that children can be placed with families of the same ethnicity.

Helzer added that many teenagers who age out of foster care end up homeless, in jail, and a very small percentage ends up going to college.

With the Hero Initiative as a call to action to have more foster parents for teens and siblings, Aspiranet hopes to end that cycle.

“I feel that as a society we’re failing in that area and we really need to improve our programs to help children who are aging out of foster care,” Helzer said.
Read the article at L.A. Watts Times.

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