May is National Foster Care Month. And while the month is ending, here in Vermont the need for foster parents, especially for infants and adolescents, just keeps on going – and growing.
The Department for Children and Families, or DCF, is responsible for assessing reports of abuse or neglect and removing abused or neglected children from their parents if necessary. Then DCF is responsible for the children until they can be reunited with their parents, placed with another family member, or freed for adoption. Children’s health, safety and wellbeing are the first priorities, and DCF tries to reunite families when that’s possible; in the meantime, the children in DCF custody need foster care.
Foster parenting is a complex role. Providing a stable, nurturing family life for children who have experienced trauma can be both challenging and deeply rewarding. Some infants are born addicted; some are neglected when they’re most helpless and vulnerable, and some children are doubly traumatized when they’re removed very abruptly from dangerous situations that they may be too young to understand.
As DCF and the parents develop a case plan with steps for the parents to follow in order to be reunited with their children, parents retain the right to visit their children in DCF custody. So foster parents do their best to help both birth parents and children during what can be sad, confusing, and stressful times. While some foster parents would like to adopt their foster children, they understand that they have to support DCF’s case plan and that before a child can be adopted, only a judge can terminate parental rights after several court hearings.
Many adults are eligible to become foster parents. They may be single, partnered, married, gay, or straight. They will have to pass a background check and also demonstrate that their home is safe for children. And they must be in good health and good legal and financial standing, because being a foster parent is not a paid job. However, the state provides a stipend to meet foster children’s needs, and Vermont Medicaid covers necessary medical and psychological treatment; the state also arranges for respite care for foster children when foster parents need it.
As a teacher I’ve seen how foster parents can transform a tragic situation for a child into a success, whether the child is eventually reunited with his or her birth family or adopted. The Department for Children and Families welcomes inquiries from anyone who would like to know more about becoming a foster parent.