May is Foster Parent Month

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

When people become foster parents, they are making an unselfish investment that permanently shapes the life of a child and his family.

Everyone needs to be loved – and foster parents give it to children whose parents – for whatever reason – don’t or can’t express it. Like all children, foster children need to be able to count on someone’s care, even in the midst of family problems.

Whenever possible, the Virginia Department of Social Services works to make sure children are raised in their birth families, even if a foster family has to provide an interim home for the youngster.

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According to the Suffolk Department of Social Services, foster parents’ first responsibility is to work with social workers as a team with a common goal – making a safe, healthy home for a child while maintaining the youngster’s bonds with his birth family and friends.

This isn’t easy and can take time. Oftentimes, children have been taken from their birth parents because of overwhelming problems that overflow into the home: unemployment, homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction, family violence. Most of these families have few resources to help them through their difficulties.

Despite their problems, birth parents usually do have the desire to love and raise their own child. Sometimes they just need a little push in the right direction.

When the foster parents step in to provide a safe, temporary home for the youngster, they are giving the birth mother and/or father an opportunity to make some changes in their lives: finding employment, overpowering addictions and learning how to make a real home for their children.

Foster parenting and parenting your own children are similar in many ways. But there are also differences. Families who have been fostering for a while says that it takes more than love and a good home to be an effective foster parent. It takes a special understanding about troubled families, knowledge of child abuse and neglect, and an understanding of the trauma children experience when separated from their families.

There are many reasons why people decide to be foster parents. Some do it because they love children and get great satisfaction from helping them and their families. Others do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Still others do it to provide companionship and to enrich the lives of their own children.

People interested in learning more about foster parenting should attend a meeting from 10 a.m. to noon May 27 at the Suffolk Social Services Department on Market Street.

To qualify for foster parenting, people can be single or married; age 21 or older; have their own source of income/employment and benefits; be able to provide a safe, healthy home; have enough living space to care for a child,

either in a house or an apartment; be willing to work with an agency, families, schools and others; able to help a child cope with serious family problems and deal with the effects of neglect; and willing to let the child go when the time comes.

For more information, call Suffolk Department of Social Services at 923-3019.

Evelyn Wall is a staff writer and regular columnist. Contact her at 934-9615 or via e-mail at