What is Foster Care?
Foster care is the act of taking children into your home whose family members are unable to provide care for them. The goal of foster care is to provide a safe, nurturing and supportive environment for the child or children needing care. Foster care provides additional familial support to the children in care. New relationships are created between the foster family and the children they foster. Supporting the children’s relationships with their own family and other significant people in their lives is an important aspect of foster care.
Who are the children in care?
Children in care come from all age groups and backgrounds. What they have in common is their need for a caring and nurturing temporary home until their family is able to care for them once more.
A child may need foster care for a number of reasons, including:
- Illness, death, or challenges in his or her family
- Neglect or abandonment
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
Some adolescents need foster care when their views severely conflict with those of their families.
Some children in care may have special needs that require more care and attention than their family are able to provide at a particular point in time. They may have:
- Health challenges, either with their physical or mental health
- Developmental delays or disabilities
- Other struggles resulting from trauma in their lives
Whatever the reason for being in care, each child is special and unique. In addition, most are hurt and confused by the separation from their family. They need encouragement and support to feel good about themselves. They will not forget their own family and will want to stay connected with them.
How long Do children stay in Care?
Some children may only need emergency care for one or two nights. Other children may need to stay longer, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Still others may require longer-term care for several years, possibly until they age out of care.
Regardless of the length of time, every effort is made by the agency to reunite the child with his or her family, where appropriate. If this is not possible, the goal is to find a home where the child feels wanted and can remain connected to his or her family and/or community. Although a child’s stay in your home may only be temporary, you still play a valuable role in his or her life.
Part of the role of a kinship or foster family is being able to give the children in their care the time and attention they need, and yet be able to help children leave their home in a positive way when the time comes.
Who can be a caregiver?
Single persons or couples (regardless of sexual orientation or identification), with or without children, can apply to become kinship or foster caregivers. They may live in any of a variety of residences (apartment, house, etc.), as long as it meets certain physical standards. It is not necessary that they own their home. They can live anywhere in the province of Manitoba. They may be from any ethnic, racial, religious or cultural background.
What Qualifications Should Caregivers Have?
Caregivers need to recognize the value of children and be prepared to offer them care, attention, guidance and patience in a stable home environment. As well, they need to understand the importance of supporting children in care to stay connected with their family, community and culture. It is important that the whole family participate in the decision to provide care to a child, because this decision affects all members of the caregiver family. Caregivers must be flexible and understand that a child may not always live up to their expectations.
Agency workers who interview prospective caregivers look for particular qualities:
- The warmth to care for a child and make him or her feel wanted and loved
- The ability to accept a child from a challenging home environment, who may or may not want to be with a caregiver family
- The patience to work with a child who may be withdrawn or hyperactive
- The willingness to accept the fact that the child may still want to be involved with his or her immediate and extended family
- The willingness to work with the child’s significant connections, including their family and community
- The commitment to attend training to gain additional knowledge necessary for helping the child in care
What supports are There for Caregiver Families?
As a caregiver family, you receive direct support through the child and family services agency that licensed your home. The agency will help you understand your caregiving role. The agency that places a child in your home is required to spend time with you and the child in care to help solve problems, plan interventions, arrange family visits and arrange any supports you need to help you perform your role.
In addition to the agency supports listed above, caregiver families have access to the following support programs:
- The Foster Parent Intentional Damage Compensation Plan
- The Foster Parent Legal Aid Assistance Plan
Details about these plans can be obtained through a child and family services agency.
The Manitoba Foster Family Network is another resource for support to caregiver families. The Manitoba Foster Family Network provides information to those who are interested in becoming caregivers and also acts as an on-going support system for caregivers. All caregivers are members of the Foster Family Network and most of the services are provided free of charge. Services include a peer support call-in phone line, educational information sessions, community events, monthly clothing exchanges and a discount card program. For more information, visit www.mffn.ca or call 204-940-1280.