This is the third and final article in a series on foster care and adoption.
Currently, there are 50 foster care providers in Morrison County and with the increase of children in need of services, more are needed. But there is a lot to think about before making the commitment to foster or adopt a child, said Morrison County Social Services Supervisor Melanie Erickson.
“To go from just being in the community to adopting or just even going into foster care is a very big step and a lot of people are not prepared for how challenging that can be,” she said.
Erickson said sometimes people go into providing foster care with the mindset that all the children need is love and that love heals everything.
While love and acceptance are important, Erickson said it is essential for people to understand that healing cannot be rushed and doesn’t happen overnight. Healing occurs over a long period of time as trust and a solid routine are established. The kind of trauma and the impact it had on the child can also determine whether they heal at all.
In addition, a child may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other exposure to drugs that affect their development and response.
New foster parents may be discouraged when they don’t see a positive change fairly early and take it personally.
“There is a lot to overcome, so sometimes our foster parents feel that when they are unable to change a certain behavior right away that it is a reflection on them and that they are not doing a good enough job,” she said. “We have had foster care parents ask kids to leave their home because they feel they are not able to make a deep enough impact on the behavior. That’s why having that education and exposure ahead of being a foster parent is important.”
Erickson said the majority of foster parents who have been successful started out in small ways and were exposed to children with special needs. By getting involved on a smaller scale, they are also able to find out what is truly right for their own family dynamic.
One way those who are considering becoming foster parents or adopting a child can prepare is to first become a mentor with the Kinship of Morrison County.
Mentors are volunteers whose role is that of a friend and a role model to the youth. Individuals, 18 and older, married couples and families can apply to become mentors.
Once they have attended an orientation meeting and have gone through the application process successfully, which includes a background check, a reference check and an interview with Kinship staff, the search for a “match” begins. Mentors are matched by gender and shared interests.
Mentors commit to spending a minimum of four hours per month with their “Kinkid,” engaging in activities that cost nothing or very little. The commitment lasts for a year at a time, but can be renewed annually.
“Thinking about being a Kinship mentor prior to being a foster parent would be an excellent way to start with that exposure because if you’re involved in Kinship, many times you bring those kids into your family situation, too,” said Erickson. “You do things together and you can see how your own kids react to that because if you’re thinking about being a foster parent, it is also important to think about your own family, what your own kids experience and what that might be like.”
Erickson also reminds people that there are other ways to support children who are in foster care without becoming a foster parent.
“There are still a lot of things you can do that are important. We have a number of foster kids and adopted kids living in the community and kids who are with families that are seriously mentally ill. All of those families need support,” she said.
Sometimes families need a break, which is where respite care can come in handy. Erickson said there are two forms of respite care — formal and informal. While formal respite care requires a license and certain guidelines to be met, informal is not as strict — it can be anyone a parent or guardian simply feels comfortable with and whom can provide the family with extra support.
For more information, people can call (320) 632-2951.