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A Sense of Accomplishment and Satisfaction

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Rewards are great for both parents and kids when you step up to the plate to be a foster parent.

May brings the fresh fragrance of lilac blossoms and the promise of spring, but it also carries the heavy weight of foster children who have nowhere to live. May is National Foster Care month. The number of Idaho children, from infants to 18-year-olds, placed in foster care tripled from 747 in 1993 to 2,382 in 2003. In 2005, 1,215 children in North Idaho were placed in foster care as a result of child abuse or neglect.

Foster homes provide temporary care for children from birth to 18. Children can be in care for 30 days, a couple months, or over a year. Foster families provide for the basic, physical and emotional needs of the child. The goal is reunification with the birth parents, and foster parents help build the bridge to make this possible.

According to Monique, the Recruiter Peer Mentor of the greater Bonner County area and a foster parent for over ten years, foster parenting gives a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in making a difference in a child’s life.

“It means so much to be able to help a child,” Monique said. “I have bonded with several foster kids over the years and they are still a part of my family and my life. Some have gone on to college and have become productive, responsible members of society.”

Kathryn (Kate), 23, recently graduated from the University of Idaho with two Bachelor’s degrees of science, one in microbiology and one in molecular biology with a minor in chemistry. A hard worker, she saved her pennies to take a five-week trip to Europe. Next fall, she will return to U of I to begin working on her Master’s degree in science.

Kate said she was in foster care for about a year and a half. Kate and her five siblings insisted on staying together. Keeping siblings intact can be difficult. In fact, nationally, agencies succeed in keeping only 25 percent of siblings in foster care with one foster family.

“Both of my parents trained us to be independent,” Kate said. “They constantly told us to do what we felt was right. And we knew it was right for us to stay together.”

Kate stressed the importance of foster parents keeping an open mind and not stereotyping foster children, who are often scared, angry, confused and tired.

“Kids in foster care,” Kate said, “have had experiences that will make them act out in different ways. Their behavior might seem extreme. It’s really not. So don’t prejudge the kids based on initial actions.”

She also said that the foster kids, often in survival mode, have learned abnormal behavior in order to make sense of their situation. Given time, understanding and plenty of patience, these behaviors will change.

“Foster parents,” Kate said, “should get as much education as possible about the kid’s situation. Find out how they like their coffee and make them feel at home. Give them space and don’t over-parent them.”

Kate said it took her time to get used to her foster family.

“You can’t go into foster care expecting to just simply do a kid a favor by giving them a roof over their head,” Kate said. “They’re a person, and when they settle down they’re going to reach out. And you need to be emotionally available.”

Kate said that foster parents should treat the foster kids like family, allocating chores and taking them to visit other relatives and participate in family outings.

“I have a deep respect for my foster parents and would do anything for them,” Kate said. “And I know they would do the same for me.”

It’s important for the whole community to be involved, Kate said. The church, neighbors, and various organizations all contributed to helping the Kate’s family reunite with their mother.

“Foster family success is a community effort,” said Monique. “You don’t have to be a foster parent to help. You could mentor a child, sponsor them for a sport like soccer or basketball, or provide them with a service, like a free haircut.”

Foster families also need respite backup. A night out at the movies, or better yet, a quiet night while the kids go to the movies, can do wonders, Monique said.

Although foster families receive an allowance for the foster children, they only get $30 a month for clothes. Often, children have to leave their homes without anything but the clothes on their backs. A new pair of shoes, jacket, shirt or pants can help a child feel better about themselves and their situation.

If you’d like to learn more about foster parenting, call the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare, Foster Care line at 208-265-4523.

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Desire Aguirre Desire Aguirre lives in Sandpoint with her daughter, DaNae, and numerous pets. An LCSC student, she plans on graduating May, 2009, with a bachelors in communication. Her favorite sport is riding her horse, Splash-of-Paint, into the wilderness with Cholo, her son's faithful dog.

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