Thursday, June 6, 2013

Foster families still needed in Pinal County

Posted: Jun 6, 2013 10:10 AM by Faye DeHoff Updated: Jun 6, 2013 10:15 AM FLORENCE - Foster families are still needed in Pinal County, so county employees interested in becoming foster parents attended a "Lunch and Learn" seminar sponsored by the Pinal County Employee Wellness Coalition. The presentation was given by Chrissy Edwards, a program coordinator for Arizona's Children Association. "There are currently 77 Pinal County kids in group homes right now," Edwards said. "We want to get them out and into a real home." Edwards said the children who are taken out of a home setting is not based an arbitrary judgment. There are a lot of factors are taken into account before a child is removed from a home. "First there is a phone call made to Child Protective Services (CPS)," Edwards stated. "If CPS determines that child is at risk, they will remove the child from that situation. The first question asked is if there is a relative or a friend who could provide care, which is less traumatic for the child. We call this a relative placement. If that is not available, then we look for a family foster home." The child will stay in the relative placement or foster setting until the case is resolved. "Foster care is temporary, the goal is almost always reunification with the family," Edwards said. "Adoption is permanent and sometimes those who foster a child for a long period of time will end up adopting them if reunification is impossible." Once a child is placed in foster care, the temporary family will know as much as CPS does about the case. The time following placement becomes a learning situation for both CPS and the foster family. "When a child comes into foster care we know very little about them," Edwards said. "We know the basics - name, age and why they were removed. We find out medical history and school history later," Edwards explained. While the child is in foster care, there are two plans being designed for the child. The number one plan is reunification with the family. The other is adoption by the foster family or by another family. Planning for either alternative ensures that the child does not linger in the system for an extended period of time. "At any point up to the severance of parental rights, that child can be returned to birth parents or relatives if the guardians can meet the demands of the court," Edwards said. The entire process can take anywhere from a year to two years. "It's an emotional journey, but it is one we hope people will take," Edwards said. Being taken out of a home setting can be traumatic for a child. A flood of emotions take over and the child will sometimes act up. This is one of the issues a foster family will have to handle if it comes up. "Behavior is the language of children, I really believe that," Edwards told the group. "They can act out due to the trauma they have experienced." While the child is in foster care, the foster parents will be asked to communicate with the child's birth family. "The biological parents will not have the foster's phone number," Edwards said. "The foster family will work in conjunction with the case worker to develop a plan. We want to make the foster family comfortable - we deal on a case-to-case basis for everyone." The messages can be as simple as sending the biological family a school photo of their child, sending a note informing them of their child's achievements or a phone call if both parties are comfortable with that arrangement. "This is a relationship that develops over time," Edwards said. "I have seen some amazing relationships develop out of this situation. Even though the child was returned to the birth family over five years ago, the child and foster family are still in contact. I even had some birth mothers tell me that they wouldn't be the mother they are today without the help of the foster mother." There are stringent requirements to qualify to be a foster parent. A person must be 21 years or older, can be married or single, immunization records will be required, five character references must be provided, a sufficient family income is needed and the person must submit to a home study or family assessment. Other requirements include: attending 33 hours of classroom training, everyone in the home 18 years or older must submit to fingerprinting and obtain a Level One Clearance Card, have their home inspected and have appropriate sleeping arrangements for the foster child. "We are not going to go through the home with a white glove," Edwards said. "But we need to make sure this will be a proper arrangement for the child." Edwards stressed that there is plenty of support for foster families. "We don't just drop the child off and say 'good luck,'" Edwards said. "We have support systems set up for foster parents." Foster parents have access to medical, dental and prescription coverage for the child, money for child care assistance if needed, money for financial support of the child and several other items that come along with fostering a child such as support groups and respite care. To learn more about joining up as a foster family, call Chrissy Edwards at (480) 474-2263.

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