You may be who a foster child needs
Garfield County Human Services is campaigning to draw more foster parents, and it needs those who think they might be up to the tough task to consider whether they could do the job.
Colorado, including Garfield County, is suffering from a severe lack of foster homes. So much so, that the state DHS estimates Colorado will need 1,200 more foster families over the next couple of years.
On the central Western Slope, Garfield and Mesa counties see far more children placed in out-of-home care than Garfield County’s neighbors. Currently, Garfield County has 43 children in out-of-home placement.
Our county has had some recent success in recruiting new foster families, with eight new homes currently waiting to be certified. And the local DHS plans a campaign to continue that growth. That will include open houses, an advertising campaign, streamlined digital access to documents and information that prospective foster parents need. The program is even planning baby showers at local libraries where new foster parents of infants can get donated items, like diapers and wipes.
Natalie Yorgesen, a Rifle mom who’s coming up on four years as a foster parent, wants those on the fence about becoming a foster parent to know about the huge impact they can have on a child’s life.
The journey for Yorgesen and her husband didn’t start with an idea of doing it for many years, or opening their home up to a dozen children — though that’s what happened.
It started with just one 13-year-old girl, whom Yorgesen knew through church. The girl was removed from her home, and her closest relative was out of state. Yorgesen and her family decided to open up their home, and the girl ended up staying with them for 11 months. When it was time for her to go back home, which is the ultimate goal of the foster program, DHS asked Yorgesen’s family if they would continue to be foster parents.
“Once we got involved and saw how it changed her life, and how it changed our lives too, we saw how really valuable of a thing it was for her and for us,” said Yorgesen. “It was a good experience for us,” she said, so they decided to dive in. Since then, they’ve fostered a total of 12 children.
The experience and challenges will, of course, be different depending on the age of child. Yorgesen and her husband have taken in a 5-week-old baby to 15-year-old boys. Babies need a lot of love, and foster parents need to make sure to get them to doctor’s appointments.
With the toddlers and elementary-age kids, often there can be confusion about why they are there, so it’s all about letting them know that they’re loved, she said. “The key with teenagers is to get them involved in something and keep them busy.”
“We strive at our house to let them know their parents still love them, that they’re just at our house until their parents can get some things straightened out,” said Yorgesen.
“We want to make them feel like part of the family, no different than our biological children,” she said. “And we make sure they have lots of activities, not just sitting at home waiting for the days to go by.”
“It’s challenging at first for a while because you don’t know what to expect from the child. It’s a guessing game while the child decides how he or she feels about this situation.”
And, it can be challenging dealing with the parents, who are often angry. Although the child’s parents are not necessarily angry with the foster parents, “it can get directed at you because you’re the one with their child,” said Yorgesen. “At first they feel judged; it’s a big pill to swallow to have your child taken away. But once they realize that you don’t want to take their child away, once they realize you’re here to help, not to judge, they are more kind,” she said.
And the laws and regulations that have to be followed are often a slow-moving process, which can be very frustrating. Yorgesen said that her family has never had a foster child for less than four months. It can also be hard to hear about the trauma some of these children have endured, and not to get angry at the parent for allowing that trauma to have happened, she said.
“It’s knowing that those four months they spend in my home could change their life forever, and creating the desire in them not to take the same footsteps they were exposed to. But a lot of people think it’s a long difficult process or that they won’t qualify.”
In its recruitment efforts, DHS battles several myths that people believe disqualify them. Foster parents can be single, work full time, be in a same-sex relationship, be divorced, and can rent rather own a home. None of that excludes you from being a foster parent, said Susan Garcia, foster care supervisor at Garfield County DHS.
“We really need people who care about children and who are invested in them having a safe and secure life, and who want to give back to the community,” said Garcia.
The paperwork and training required at first can scare some people off. Foster parents also have to be CPR and first aid certified.
“But we’re emphasizing that our team tries as much as possible to support them in their endeavor to become foster parents; we try to break down those barriers,” Garcia said.
The local DHS has found a trainer who can make house calls to get the parents, or a few sets of parents, certified in a day for CPR and first aid. And the department has been putting more information and documentation online and on social media, giving people better access.
Some children will also have therapy appointments, such as for counseling or delayed speech, that foster parents need to be responsible for meeting. Yorgesen said that the Garfield County DHS has been great about supporting her and her family, such as helping get a foster child to an appointment or parent visit when the family is struggling to keep up. The county has a great group of foster parents who really support each other as best they can, and who can include watching the foster child if the assigned foster parent has to be away, said Garcia.
Being a foster parent really is a job unto itself, said Garcia. But, Yorgesen says that it’s all worth it when you’re “taking in a kid and making them know they’re worthwhile and that they can accomplish much more than they thought they were worth.”
“It’s knowing that you’re making a difference,” she said. “Knowing that if I were stuck in the same situation as these parents, that someone would be willing to take my child and care for them to the best of their ability. Whether it’s a baby or frightened 15-year-old boy coming into your house terrified that something will happen that’s worse than what they’ve already experienced … and for them to realize it’s a safe place and they can grow and blossom, it makes it all worth it.”
Applicants can also sign up to be a respite care provider, in which you’ll care for a foster child overnight or over a weekend for the foster parents. “Then you can get that experience without making full commitment, and you’ll probably see that it’s not that terrible, that these are just regular kids who need a safe place and to be accepted,” said Yorgesen.
Volunteers can also be on the foster program’s retention and recruitment committee to help develop new ideas for a robust group of foster homes in the county.
For more information about becoming a foster parent in Garfield County, visit tinyurl.com/garfieldfoster, or call 970-625-5282, ext. 3120.