As the foster parent population in Nova Scotia continues to dwindle, some advocates say there is a crisis on the horizon.
According to community services Minister Joanne Bernard, there are currently 570 foster families in Nova Scotia and over 1,000 children in care.
“We have to understand that the North American trend right now is that foster parents are ageing,” said Bernard, adding many of the children in need of care are unnecessarily being put into group homes.
“There are many children in residential services that we know could be with foster parent homes. We know the outcomes are more favourable to young people, we know the support is second to none.”
Bernard said they are making a “concerted effort” to recruit and retain more foster parents in the province. There are rolling information sessions happening throughout the province in an effort to raise awareness and point potential foster parents in the first direction.
“Who you are is who we need,” Bernard said.
On Thursday, she made announcements surrounding some positive changes to the system at the annual foster parent appreciation dinner.
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Starting November 1, foster parents will now receive $200 for clothing and personal items for each child when they first arrive in care, citing that too often children arrive in care without a toothbrush or proper clothing.
This amount will be in addition to the clothing allowance already in affect.
The government also announced they will be raising the foster care respite rate up from between $17 and $40 to $56 a day. This is the amount that is paid to foster parents who care for children for short periods in the event that regular foster parents need time off. The change has been long called for by the foster parent community who said more needed to be done to entice people to want to offer this type of care.
The government will also be reimbursing children’s meals when transportation is needed over meal times. This applies to those times when foster parents are driving long distances to bring children to appointments or access events, and they (the foster parents) are needing a meal.
Despite these improvements, many foster parents say there’s much more work to be done if the government hopes to entice more people to join the system.
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Taryn and Mark Haynes have been foster parents for more than ten years and have welcomed more than 50 children into their Dartmouth home.
“I love fostering. I love having a lot of children in the family. I love parenting. I love Christmas mornings with all the excitement, extra presents and people,” said Taryn Haynes.
“I like working with families. A lot of times I get to work with the birth parents and help with reunification.”
She said she loves each and every one of her “borrowed children” and loves the feeling that comes from providing them with a safe place to live in the interim.
And while fostering children is an incredibly rewarding experience, she does say there are improvements that could be made to help ease the burden placed on a finite group.
The Haynes’ are currently foster parents to four children, all under the age of seven. One of those children has extensive medical needs and requires frequent visits to the IWK. With two children of their own, that makes for a tight squeeze in their three bedroom house.
Haynes said they typically foster between two and three children, but have had up to five for short periods of time.
“A lot of children, even babies are going into group homes because we don’t have the homes. I don’t like seeing children go into group homes so I’ll fill my bedrooms as much as I can to have the kids be in a family,” she said, adding if the government wants more foster families, they need to increase reimbursements for things like respite care, travel allowances and babysitting.
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“We have children with feeding tubes, and $4 an hour really isn’t an adequate babysitting rate,” Haynes said, adding it’s nearly impossible to find a qualified adult to babysit for this kind of pay.
While it’s clear foster parents aren’t in it for the money, many say the government needs to increase the per diem amount to account for inflation. As of 2011, the amount for children under 10 years of age is $17.50. Older than 10, it goes up to $25.43 per day. Despite the rising cost of raising a child in Canada, that number hasn’t had a significant increase in nearly years.
“They’re right, it hasn’t increased and its something that requires resources,” Bernard said.
“It’s one many concerns they bring to me. There are others we can mitigate right away. but we’re working on it because we realise the value they add to child welfare its just second to none.”
Bernard said the issue is on their radar and anything they’re looking at doing would be rolled out in 2019.
“I said it many times, these really are the truly unsung heroes of our child welfare system. They are in my opinion, the best public resource that we have,” she said.
“They open their homes, they open their hearts, they do so with enthusiasm. They take in children who have witnessed or been the subject of neglect, abuse, and have gone through horrific situations in their home.”
Some foster parent advocates would also like to see the application process more streamlined, stating that many people may be turned off by the extensive screening and training process which can often take up to two years to complete.
Bernard said her department is looking at ways of addressing these issues, and said they have recently introduced a mentorship program which pairs veteran foster parents with new ones.
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For the Haynes family, being able to help children be reunited with their families is what makes it all worthwhile.
“I think that it takes a community to raise children and we’re part of that community. Everybody needs helps sometimes and I like working with families and children and seeing them get back together.”
She said there’s a number of misconceptions surrounding who can be a foster parent.
“Working parents can foster. The agency does pay for daycare. You can be a single mom, you can be a mom who hasn’t parented before. The agency will put the children in a daycare near your home and they will pay for that directly,” said Haynes.
“I think it’s great to have professional families who want to foster. It’s just like parenting. The agency will pay for the child to go to daycare, but you’re the parent. If the child comes home sick it’s your responsibility.”
She said despite the challenges, being a foster parent has ultimately enriched their lives in immeasurable ways and they hope other people will be inspired to put their names forward.
“If you are considering fostering and you enjoy spending time with kids, if you like doing family events and being part of that community, you should definitely do it,” said Haynes.
“I don’t mislead my friends about it being a lot of work, but parenting is a lot of work and I think it’s worth it.”
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, more information is available here.
October 17-21 is designated Foster Parent Appreciation Week.