As the face of foster care continues to evolve, so do the supportive roles that foster parents play in the lives of the children they serve. Foster parents in Talbot County are stepping up to help foster children in a variety of creative ways to be a positive force in the lives of these children.
According to Christine Abbatiello, LCSW-C, Foster Care and Adoptions Supervisor for the Talbot County Department of Social Services, “One of the most urgent needs related to foster children is the need to support young adults transitioning from foster care into independent living or residential placements. These young adults often need help with learning skills to help them with their independence.”
Foster parent Meaghan Davis has been helping an older foster youth with his independence while he awaits placement in residential facilities. She is also helping an older foster youth learn to drive and manage doctor’s appointments. She comments, “Although these foster children can be as old as 21, they have high-level needs. Some need assistance with managing their disabilities, routine care, getting meals, managing their money/budgeting, and accessing resources. It can be challenging as some of these young adults are not functioning at their age levels or there may be a lack of motivation to make the transition into adulthood.”
She adds, “Some foster youth may not have family or support so that’s also a big role that we play in their lives. Building trust and a relationship so they can feel as if they are family, or at least have a lifelong friendship, is something we can do.”
Foster parent Jeanne Scharf has been a foster parent since 1998 and has adopted six children, including a sibling group of five children. Through her time as a foster parent and respite provider, she has felt that she has developed creative ways to deal with the challenging behaviors that can sometimes present themselves when working with foster youth. As a respite provider, Scharf provides short term care for foster children, providing relief for their usual caregiver. Respite allows families who may be experiencing a stressful situation time away from those stresses. She states, “Each respite case is different and you have to approach the discipline creatively while being positive and encouraging. Every child we help, we learn something from them. Doing respite with these youth allows us to address the challenges with new fresh eyes, which can sometimes be very helpful to a youth who is struggling with an issue.”
Scharf has helped to take older youth to doctor appointments, provide oversight in their apartments as they transition to residential facilities, and has even stayed in the hospital with a foster child, making her an activity bag to help with her stay. Scharf adds, “You get to play a small part in the bigger part of their lives. We are conveying some sort of stability in the time that we have them – some normalcy. It can be a positive experience for a child who is having difficulty to have someone fill in the gap. Being a foster and respite provider can tell them they are worth it. It may be the only time that they hear that.”
Foster parents in the region are meeting regularly as part of a foster parent support group. According to foster parent Sarah Baynard, “The group is focused on bringing fellow and like-minded foster parents together in a safe space to build camaraderie and develop a support system among us. The experiences and challenges faced by foster families are not anything that can be understood by anyone else, so having that ability to connect with other families can be very cathartic and helpful.”
She adds, “As a newer foster home, we have benefited greatly from the advice from more experience homes and that information can be invaluable.”
For further information about becoming a foster parent, call the Talbot County Department of Social Services at 410-820-7371.