Foster Care

March 25, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Providing a foster home is a team-building process.

Not only are foster families responsible for tending to the needs of the children placed in their homes, but they play an active role in trying to reunite the young people with their birth families.

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"You really need to be a foster parent to the whole family, not just the child. The foster family really is a part of the treatment team," says Dick Snyder, foster care and adoptions resource home coordinator for Washington County Department of Social Services.

Children are removed from their families for a number of reasons, including abuse, neglect, substance abuse by the biological parents or to protect them from a potentially dangerous situation, like domestic violence. The incarceration of a parent also may put them in the care of Department of Social Services or other social service agencies.


Foster children range in age from newborn to 18.

The goal of foster care is to provide a nurturing home for children until they rejoin their biological parents or other relatives or are adopted, according to written information provided by Department of Social Services.

What it takes

In order to qualify as a foster parent in Washington County, individuals must be county residents and be at least 21 years old.

An eight-week, 20-hour training program is provided for prospective foster or adoptive parents by Department of Social Services. The program teaches adults what to expect, verses them in the legal issues and regulations involved and stresses the need for foster families to work with birth families, Snyder says.

Upon completion of the training, the homes of prospective foster families are inspected to ensure they meet health, safety and fire regulations and have sufficient space. Checks are run on members of the household over the age of 18 for any history of criminal activity, child abuse or neglect, Snyder says.

If approved, they are considered "resource homes," Snyder says.

The programs try to place children in homes that are best suited to their needs and to the preferences requested by foster families.

"You try to make the best matches you can," says Tim Freed, manager of Therapeutic Foster Care in Hagerstown.

Freed says foster parents should be assertive, yet able to hand out praise often. They also must be organized and flexible.

"You've got to be willing to roll with the punches," Snyder says.

A family commitment

Many foster parents have children of their own, who must be willing to welcome other children into their home.

"This truly is a family commitment. The family has to buy into this as a unit," Snyder says.

Being a foster family can be a challenge. Not only are people trying to assimilate new children into their families but they may feel as though they're living in a fishbowl, Snyder says. Being watched over by social service agencies, the courts, school systems and therapists can be daunting at times, he says.

There is also the reality that the young person they welcome as an addition to their family is supposed to leave at some point. Saying goodbye is difficult, but it's part of the deal.

"They've got to know this is short-term," Freed says.

The length of stay varies, Snyder says. In Therapeutic Foster Care, the objective is to return the youth to their biological families within 18 months, Freed says.

There also are plenty of rewards, like seeing a child who was out of control be transformed into a well-mannered person.

"It's pretty neat to see that," Freed says.

Families are compensated for taking other people's children under their wing.

Therapeutic Foster Care pays $48 per day, tax-free, Freed says.

Those who work with Department of Social Services are paid about $500 a month to meet the foster child's basic needs, Snyder says. The children have medical cards that cover all costs of services provided by participating physicians.

related stories & information

-- Foster families

-- Foster training

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