Foster Parenting can make a Big Life Difference for a Local Children and Families
By Iris Winston; Photos by John Major
The Mohamud family
Abdirizak and Farhia Mohamud have fostered 10 children over the last six years. They stepped forward because there were no other families with a similar heritage available to take in children in need.
“We have a Somali background and heard of a couple of issues in the community,” says Abdirizak, a welfare worker with the City of Ottawa. “We thought one of the best ways to become involved was as foster parents. Initially, our intention was to take children from similar backgrounds to ours because there were no other Somali foster parents at the time. So, in the beginning, we accepted children who were Somali or Muslim. Later, we took children from wherever the need was.”
The Mohamuds began fostering children when their son was two. “He really enjoyed the company of other children about his own age,” says Abdirizak. “As he got older, there was more competition, but it was still very workable.”
Most recently, the family fostered two brothers, who returned to stay with kin a few months after the Mohamuds’ third child was born. “Every time there is a change, you have to readjust,” says Abdirizak “You have to prepare your own children for the change that is about to happen and you have to make your home as welcoming as possible for the children who are coming to you.”
Integrating foster children into the home and the family often begins with a visit before the children move in, he says, and that is a good time to help everyone relax and have fun. He also recommends taking advantage of all the services on offer through the CAS, noting that foster parenting is parenting in partnership with the society.
“Right now,” he says, “we are taking a little time with our own children, but we may well be ready to take foster children again later.”
The Fontaine/McPherson Family
“Life got 100 percent better for me when I was adopted,” says Jon Daly, now 21. “I knew that I never had to be concerned about leaving again, that I finally had a place that I could call home.”
Jon, who had been in foster care for most of his life until his adoption at 16, says, “As a foster kid, one of the scariest things is coming into a new house and wondering if or when you’re going to leave. And you know that’s going to happen when you turn 18 and age out of the system. After my parents adopted me, I didn’t have to worry about that any more.”
Adoption made a huge difference to Jon’s comfort level, says his adoptive father, André Fontaine, who had fostered him for five years before the adoption was finalized. The journey from fostering to adoption began when André, who had been a single foster father to seven children for over a decade, met D’Arcy McPherson and they decided to live together.
“Jon, who had connected with D’Arcy in a very positive way from the beginning, asked us why we didn’t get married so that we could be a real family,” recalls André. This was about the time that the law changed to allow same-sex marriage in some provinces, he adds, noting with a smile, “We always say that Jon was the one who proposed. We never proposed to each other.”
The Fontaine/McPherson wedding in Ottawa was attended by D’Arcy’s small family from Victoria, British Columbia, André’s huge family from Batoche, Saskatchewan — all five sisters, two brothers and their families, including 20 nephews and nieces — all seven of André’s foster children, and even some members of their birth families.
When the nuptials were over and all the guests had gone, Jon seemed very sad, says André. “When I finally persuaded him to tell me what was wrong, he said, ‘When I get married, who will come to my wedding? I’m just a foster child.’ Hearing that just tore me to pieces. D’Arcy and I didn’t have to speak. We knew what to do.”
“It was clear,” says D’Arcy. “And it affected André and me very deeply. At that time, we hadn’t talked about adoption, but we certainly wanted Jon to know that we would always be there for him. Going to the next level and making the arrangement permanent just made sense. And it has continued to grow and be beneficial for all of us.”
Jon’s adoption was finalized when he was 16. Now, he says, “I have my parents to guide me through everything from doing taxes for the first time to applying for college and cooking. The support is wonderful. I know that, at any age, I’ll still have a place to do my laundry and raid the fridge. And, it doesn’t matter if you are six or 16, you need to know you have a family and that you belong.”
The events leading to Jon’s adoption prompted the CAS to offer André the position of family recruiter in the search for foster families in the Ottawa area. And, Jon, now a pilot, will always have a home base to fly back to.
The Barnes Family
The Barnes household is a busy place. Elizabeth and Chris Barnes have five sons, two foster sons, a foster daughter, two dogs and a cat. In addition, Elizabeth’s father lives in an apartment attached to their home.
“We’re quite well suited for teenagers,” says Elizabeth, a teacher at the Oxford Learning Centre, who added one of her students to her family when the child needed a home. “It’s not hard to have another child slide into the family and fit into the routine. I think it also gives our kids an added appreciation of their home life.”
The Barnes, who fostered children while they lived in Québec, have been foster parents in Ottawa since they moved to the city three years ago.
“We discussed it as a family and just felt that we were always a strong family and our home would be a good place for kids who needed a strong home environment,” says Elizabeth.
“We find it a positive experience and we will continue fostering.”
The Pratt Family
“I love my family because it has 20 brothers and sisters in it – so far.”
This, says Christine Pratt, is how her nine-year-old daughter, Kenya, describes life in her home. Christine, a single mother who currently has three foster children – a six-year-old girl, a four-year-old boy and a 10-month-old baby – became a foster parent seven years ago and has cared for 20 youngsters over the years.
“My partner at the time and I decided that we could definitely offer a good home to children in need, so that was the beginning,” she says. “The home was pretty much ready, because I already had a home daycare and a child.”
Christine says she intends to keep fostering as long as she is needed, even though “it is hard when the children move. You miss them and there are definitely tears when they go. But they are happy tears, because you know the children are moving on to a happy ending.”
Foster homes needed
- Homes with a parent at home to care for infants and pre-schoolers.
- Homes where teenagers can be accommodated.
- Homes with a variety of cultures and backgrounds.
- The CAS works to keep families together whenever possible.
- When a relative is not able to care for affected children, they may be brought into care.
- Foster family care is the first choice.
- Foster parents provide a temporary home for children under CAS care.
- Some children are voluntarily placed in CAS care while others are in care by a court order.
- The reasons that children are placed in CAS care vary widely. They may include neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, family problems or parental issues such as substance abuse, marital conflict or mental health issues. Because of these life experiences, some children may come to a foster home with emotional or behavioural challenges.
- Children range in age from infancy to 16 years and may be alone or with their siblings.
- Foster parents work with CAS staff as part of a team to develop a plan for each child.
- Foster parents provide stability and a caring home that encourages a child’s growth and development.
- While the legal responsibility for the child remains with the Society, foster families have an integral role in the child’s daily life.
Information drawn from the Children’s Aid Society of the County of Lanark and the Town of Smiths Falls at www.lanarkcas.ca.
Functions of Children’s Aid Societies
The functions of a Children’s Aid Society are to:
(a) investigate allegations or evidence that children who are under the age of 16 years or are in the society’s care or under its supervision may be in need of protection;
(b) protect, where necessary, children who are under the age of 16 years or are in the society’s care or under its supervision;
(c) provide guidance, counselling and other services to families for protecting children or for the prevention of circumstances requiring the protection of children;
(d) provide care for children assigned or committed to its care;
(e) supervise children assigned to its supervision;
(f) place children for adoption; and
(g) perform any other duties given to it by this or any other Act.
Information drawn from the Ontario Child and Family Services Act at www.e-laws.gov.on.ca.
Types of Foster Care
There are different types of fostering arrangements that can be made depending on agency needs or the needs of the child.
Regular Foster Care
Foster parents provide care in their own homes, protecting and nurturing children for short or long-term periods, according to the child’s family situation.
The Parent Model
Foster parents live in homes owned by the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, providing care to a maximum of four youngsters who may require therapeutic interventions and an increased level of structure. (Parent model homes were developed as an alternative to staffed group-care settings.)
Relief Foster Care
Relief foster parents and families welcome foster children into their homes on an occasional basis. This provides the regular foster family time away from caregiving. (Relief foster care is also available to families whose children are not in the care of the Children’s Aid Society but who need this support.)
Emergency Foster Care
Emergency foster parents take children on short notice and in crisis situations until long-term arrangements can be made.
Treatment Foster Care
Treatment foster care provides a clinically attentive setting with individualized and intensive treatment for children and adolescents with special needs who would otherwise be placed in institutional settings. The positive aspects of the nurturing and therapeutic family environment are combined with active and structured treatment. This type of care involves support from a multi-disciplinary team, including:
- The foster parents
- The child’s case worker
- Child and youth counsellors
- A psychologist
- A supervisor
- A unit assistant
- Birth family or kin
Information taken from the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa website at www.casott.on.ca.