June 3, 2009

Giving kids a chance

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

If you have room in your heart and in your home, you may be ready to make a difference in the life of a child by becoming a foster parent.
Foster Care is a federal and state program designed to protect children by placing them in state custody. Children who come into temporary or permanent state custody are neglected, abused, abandoned, or their parents are unable to fulfill their parenting obligation due to illness, emotional problems, or other issues. But to the children it’s much more.
Children don’t always understand that the life they have could be better. After all, their family, no matter how broken, is the only one they’ve ever known.
“Kids come to live with us, and our family and household which we think is completely normal is something they have never experienced,” says Tina Kostad McKenzie County foster parent. “Simple things like regular meals and just sitting on the couch reading books with a parent, things we take for granted, are things that these children have never known.”
McKenzie County, like many other counties in North Dakota is experiencing a foster home shortage. Currently, there is only one active foster home in McKenzie County.
“There is such a need for foster parents in this community,” adds Kostad. “It’s not the kids’ fault and it is everyone in the communities’ responsibility to help take care of these kids and give them a chance to lead a productive life.”
In McKenzie County when the need for a foster family arises, if the Kostads are full or unavailable the child is sent to a family in another county, forcing them to not only leave their family and everything familiar to them at home,  but also their school and the familiar surroundings of their home town.
“Most of the time the kids come with very little to nothing at all from home,” adds Kostad. “It can be really hard on them emotionally, especially when they are placed in another town.”
The goal of foster care is to reunite children with their families. Foster parents become partners with the Department of Family & Children Services (DFCS) to make the best plan for a child's future. Foster care is intended to be temporary, but in some situations reunification is not the best option. When reunification is not possible, the first option is to place the child with a relative. When that is not possible, children in foster care become available for a permanent home through the process of adoption.
“We work as a mediator between the child, biological parents and foster parents in an effort to get the child back home as soon as possible,” says Amy Fast, McKenzie County Social Services director. “It’s hard for a child to be removed from their home. But it is even harder for them when they have to leave their school and everything that is familiar to them because there isn’t a home available for them here. The distance also makes mediation very difficult.”
Foster parents are volunteers who offer safety and security to these children by opening their own hearts and homes. Foster parents are not paid, but are reimbursed monthly depending on the age and needs of the child. The state is responsible for the needs of the child in care such as medical and clothing expenses. Foster parents provide the love and nurturing that is vital to a child’s success.
“Becoming a foster parent is truly a process, but Social Services is there every step of the way,” says Steph Frenzel, McKenzie County Social Services licensed social worker. “The most important step is the training, because it gives foster families the tools they need to be good foster parents.”
Requirements of becoming a foster parent include passing a criminal records check, a drug screening, a medical examination, a home safety and home space requirements check, reference check, family assessment, and completion of the training program. Foster parents can be married, single or divorced and you do not need to own your home in order to become a foster parent.
“When you see it all on paper, becoming a foster parent seems like a lot and it is a little overwhelming. But when it comes down to it, the process really isn’t that difficult,” states Kostad. “The training we get is something that people pay for, but we get it for free. It seems like a lot of training, but the amount that you learn about how to help kids is amazing.”
According to Frenzel, foster families don’t have to start out as full-time caregivers. They can do respite care or emergency care which are both short-term options.
“I know we could keep one or two homes full at all times if we just had the homes available,” says Frenzel. “There are people in McKenzie County that would make wonderful foster parents; we just need to find them.”
Becoming a foster parent is a big decision, but it is a decision that doesn’t have to be made overnight. Frenzel urges anyone interested in becoming a foster parent to call their office and visit with them about the different opportunities available.
“When you see a kid smile and you know that you’ve given them this gift by making their life better, there is nothing that compares to that feeling,” states Kostad. “The kids didn’t ask to be in this situation, and they always come with an open heart ready to give unconditional love to anyone who is there to help them.”
For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact Steph Frenzel at 444-3661.