“All of our foster families are amazing. The people here are just a small sample of our amazing people,” said Noelle Typusiak, foster parent coordinator, North Okanagan Foster Parents Association, as she introduced the foster parents who had taken time from their busy lives to talk about taking foster children into their homes.
Dalton and Cheryl Moore have been foster parents for five years, after thinking about it for a long time.
“We talked about it for years and what held us back was that we thought it too hard to give them back,” said Dalton. Cheryl, who has a background in early childhood education, retired early and they became foster parents.
“Some we’ve kept for two days and some are still there after 20 years. If we don’t look after them, who’s going to?” said Dalton.
Carol Skelton and her husband have five children and added five foster children, as well as any who needed emergency foster care, over the past 17 years.
“We got our value out of our family ski pass,” she said with a smile. “Both my husband’s family and my family were foster families and we have foster brothers and sisters who are part of our family. Now we have a grandchild from one of our foster children. We say we’ll keep the children as long as necessary. We raised one sibling group, all under five and one a baby, and now they’re adults.”
While foster care officially ends at age 19. The goal is to reunite children with their birth families, with some foster parents helping birth parents to learn parenting skills. Some foster parents provide respite care or specialize in caring for children with special needs.
Ken and Colleen Ziegler have been foster parents for 24 years. They had a family and hadn’t really been thinking about fostering but their youngest son had a friend who needed a foster home and he was the first of many children they welcomed.
It all followed another change in their lives.
“We became Christians,” Colleen said. Ken added, “This journey has become a full-time mission in our lives — the compassion that Christ felt for people and children, we can do that through his strength.”
They have had more than 20 children, most long term, and many have stayed part of the family.
Cindy Vanhoof and her husband have been foster parents for 18 years.
“There are challenges. Some of the children have rarely been outside and don’t know how to play, eat and sleep on a regular schedule. We let them be kids. We can see them blossom. I had a child say to me, ‘I’m so glad I went into foster care when I did or I wouldn’t be the girl I am today.’ I remember another girl who didn’t recognize homemade food at first and wouldn’t eat it. Then she reminded me when I forgot to put the flax in her yogurt!”
The foster parents shared a variety of memories: seeing a child arrive with all their belongings in a small plastic grocery bag; siblings huddling together for comfort, not knowing what was happening; children surprised that parents would go to work regularly; having children who didn’t know that they should sit down at the table with the family to eat; being the oldest parents at school events; a child who was amazed to see a healthy marriage relationship where the husband did not hit the wife; a toddler still in diapers hoarding food and towels in a cupboard and pretending to talk to her mother about all the good things she had found.
“It’s rewarding. You don’t know what they will remember. We had one child who had a stuffie toy I had given him and he kept if for years. There was another who used to cuddle on my lap when he was a toddler and still likes to sit on my lap sometimes on a Saturday morning when we have our traditional pancake and bacon breakfast,” said Dalton. “Even when they go home, we keep up the relationship, doing things like taking them out for a birthday lunch.”
Carol remembers an incident from not long ago when her adult foster son was working in the north and someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “How’s Mom and Dad?” It was their first foster son. “We had lost touch with him and now we are all having a reunion,” she said.
Ken thinks that foster children are getting better help than ever before as their needs are recognized earlier.
“Society has come a long way in helping the children,” he said.
Carol noted that some people show surprise when they see that her family is not all of the same ethnic background.
“Mosty, we get a good response. and we do everything we can to help children connect with their cultural heritage. It’s good for all the children in the family to see that there are differences but we can all learn to accept each other for who we are,” she said.
There are approximately 125 foster parents in the Vernon area (includes Falkland, Cherryville, Lumby, Armstrong and Westside) with about 200 foster children in care. There is always a need for more foster parents, short- or long-term, with a particular need for foster parents who identify as First Nations or Métis, will care for teens or will provide respite care for children and youth with special needs. Foster parents can be single parents or couples of any age.
“We have foster parents who were foster kids and know what it means to children. Each person has their strengths and abilities and gifts to give. Foster parents make a huge difference for the children and often change their lives forever. There are many resources to help them,” said Typusiak. There are social workers for the children, parents and foster parents, all working toward what is best for the children. Foster parents can also take part in on-going education and support groups.
The next information session for people who are considering becoming foster parents will be held from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at The Gathering Place, #300,3100-30th Ave. This is a drop-in session.
Pre-registration is required for the pre-service training starting Oct. 29. For more information call Joe at 250-549-5533 or contact Typusiak at 250-558-0939 or NOKsupport@okfosterparents.ca, or see www.okfosterparents.ca.