Posted 12/09/14 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
At the beginning of October, 26 children from McKenzie County were in foster care, and only 11 out of those 26 children were able to stay in McKenzie County, according to Desiree Sorenson, director of McKenzie County Social Services. Meanwhile, the other 15 children have had to be transferred to other counties due to a lack of foster care homes and resources.
Currently, there are only two licensed foster care homes in the entire county, with the hopes to add one more in the near future. Even with three foster care homes, that leaves an extensive deficit when it comes to caring for children that end up in the state’s hands.
The role of foster care is to provide children a home until the issues which caused the children’s removal are resolved. Foster care homes also serve different purposes. The foster care family and the agency staff determine the type of foster care for a child based on the special needs of the child and how well the child will match with the foster care family.
Several types of foster care options are available through agencies in North Dakota, including Regular Foster Care for Children, Therapeutic Foster Care, Shelter Care, Foster/Adoptive Care, and Unaccompanied Minors Programs. These various foster care options can range anywhere from overnight to several months, and can eventually turn into adoption, in some cases.
Even though there are several options, there are a lot of misconceptions about foster care out there, which unfortunately intimidates, scares and ultimately turns people away from this desperately needed service. Oftentimes, it’s the bad stories about foster care that make the headlines; not the countless stories that have a happy ending or a positive impact on the children or families involved.
“Sometimes people have heard horror stories,” said Nathan Thibodeau, McKenzie County foster care parent. “You can’t change those stories, but by being a foster care parent, you can help put out more positive stories. You don’t hear about the good stories. But you can make a positive foster care family experience and be one of the good stories.”
According to Mary Kindel, another McKenzie County foster care parent, she has had a lot of positive stories that have come out of her experience as a foster care family, and not only with the children, but their parents as well.
“I remember one mother brought me a dozen roses to show her gratitude for watching over and caring for her children,” said Mary. “I can tell it means a lot to these parents. Another mother brought me this beautiful sign that read, ‘A Mother holds her Children’s hands a while, their hearts forever.’ These families appreciate foster care families giving their children a safe and loving place to go. There’s too many bad stories, and that isn’t always true.”
Elisa and Nathan Thibodeau, one of the two licensed foster care families in McKenzie County, have seen six children come through their home in the two and a half years they’ve been doing foster care. These kids have stayed anywhere from several nights to several months. And they are a family that is definitely open to adoption.
Randy and Mary Kindel, the other licensed foster care family in McKenzie County, has seen 15 children come through their home in the two and a half years they’ve been doing foster care.
“The most we’ve had at one time was four children,” said Mary. “ And we’ve had one child that literally stayed just overnight, about 12 hours, to one child we had for about 10 months. Most of the kids are short-term, and the average stay is about five days.”
The rewards these families receive in doing foster care are immeasurable. They aren’t rewards they can hang up on their wall or display in a case. Oftentimes, the rewards are felt deep within their heart and soul.
“The biggest reward is being able to make a difference in the kids’ lives,” said Nathan. “Even if it’s just for a couple of days, or it’s getting to sleep in a real bed, or not having to drive long hours for visits. It’s being able to give people the opportunity to get back on track - in long-term situations.”
“Just knowing you’re helping is a huge reward,” said Randy Kindel. “Knowing that you are giving someone a safe place and watching them respond so positively to your family is such a reward.”
Along with the rewards comes some challenges in being a foster care family. Both families unanimously agreed on the biggest challenge they face is trying to find qualified childcare providers that can watch foster care children. Oftentimes, the Thibodeaus and the Kindels want to make travel arrangements for various reasons, but planning ahead and trying to get care that is qualified to watch the foster care children is hard.
“It really requires a lot of planning ahead,” said Nathan Thibodeau. “When you are traveling out of state, you have to fill out the required paperwork, get permission, and make arrangements for approved childcare. And not many people are approved through Social Services to provide childcare for foster care children.”
But besides trying to find and arrange for qualified childcare for the kids, there weren’t many other challenges these families could name. And for the Kindel family, two of their good family friends have both become qualified to provide childcare to foster care children since they started foster care, which allows for the additional help and support.
Amongst the challenges, some people may feel that if they become licensed foster care parents, they have to take all kids. However, that is not the case. Foster care parents have a choice in the ages of the children they take, how many they take and for how long they take them, whether they choose to provide longer-term care or respite (temporary) care.
“Some people may feel that they have to take all kids, but they actually have an option,” said Elisa Thibodeau. “We really feel that McKenzie County Social Services cares about not only the kids, but us as a family, as well. They are very thoughtful. I don’t think they want to over-load the families. If you specify demographics about the kids you are willing to take, Social Services is very good about making sure to see that through. There’s always an option to say no.”
In addition to having choices in being a foster care parent or family, there is a process interested individuals go through in order to become a licensed foster care home. The process can take anywhere from three months to a year, depending on how fast the individual wants to go.
According to Sorenson, to become a licensed foster care home, individuals need to fill out paperwork and get background checks done. A social worker will then come in and do a home study, which would consist of approximately three to four meetings. Then PRIDE training has to be completed. Depending on the training schedule and the individual’s schedule, this training can take anywhere from three months to a year to complete.
“Getting through the process and training can really go as fast as you want it to,” said Elisa. “I feel like the program is good. And now having gone through it, the process may seem overwhelming, but it’s really Social Services just getting to know who you and your family are. It’s easier than I expected. There’s a potential for things to be hard, but overall it’s been pretty easy; with the kids we’ve had, it’s been easy.”
The Thibodeau family was inspired to get involved in foster care for two reasons: One, they both had a love for children and secondly, they knew there was a desperate need in McKenzie County.
“We had no idea what we were getting into,” said Nathan Thibodeau. “We would try it, knowing we could stop, but we knew we needed to at least give it a try.”
The Thibodeaus want the community to know that just because someone thinks they may not be able to do foster care for whatever reason, if someone even thinks they can do ‘something,’ then it’s worth looking into. They also want the community to know that if they think there may be something in their history or something that could possibly disqualify them, that is not necessarily the case. It’s worth a try.
“We’re nobody special,” said Nathan. “It just takes somebody who wants to make a difference for these kids.”
Much like the Thibodeaus, the Kindels had their own inspirations for getting involved in foster care. While standing in line at a Fourth of July parade, Mary Kindel found herself talking to a pastor’s wife about the need for foster care in McKenzie County. That discussion, along with an idea of always wanting to take their children on a missions trip, led to the discovery that there was a substantial need right in their own ‘back yard’ they could get involved in.
Mary shared a quote from C. S. Lewis that really helped substantiate why they were getting involved, and it’s a quote she raised her children on. It reads, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be certainly wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Randy. “It’s not a hard thing. You have to think of others, it’s just an adjustment. You get licensed through Social Services, but they don’t control your life. It’s what works for your family, and you can say no. We aren’t doing this for ourselves. We’re doing it for the children.”
For both families currently helping foster care children in McKenzie County, one thing is very clear: They aren’t doing this for themselves or for any kind of financial gain. They are solely doing this for the children, and I’m sure they’ve made impacts on not only the numerous children that have come through their homes, but on people they aren’t even aware of.
“Our community is so supportive, said Elisa. “People will instantly say, ‘do you need size two diapers, formula, clothing?’ This community is a very loving community to do foster care in, and very supportive. People just need to give it a try.”