Raising a child with emotional, physical or behavioral issues can be daunting when that child is your own. Imagine taking on that responsibility for an at-risk or special-needs foster child.
Regularly, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services contacts Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO) Therapeutic Foster Care program for short-term placement of children in a foster home.
A child could have emotional, behavioral or medical issues, but loving and willing foster families step in to provide a stable home until they can be reunited with their families, said Mamie Hall-Landry, Therapeutic Foster Care program administrator.
In Louisiana, 134 children and teens are currently in a Therapeutic Foster Care program – 20 of them through CCANO’s program, which began in 1987.
Parents are the key
“We pride ourselves on our parents,” Hall-Landry said. “Many foster parents have adopted foster children with mental health or behavioral health issues. Our parents are involved in the therapy the children are in and often recognize problems and get them the help they need.”
CCANO is seeking additional individuals to be foster parents. A foster parent can accept only two therapeutic foster children at a time.
“The reality is we could take more if we had more parents,” Hall-Landry said. She’s appealing to Caucasian individuals since all current foster parents are African American.
Who qualifies to become a foster parent? High school graduates or those with a GED who are between the ages of 18 to 65 and self-supporting; married, single or divorced with a support system; and are able to pass drug screenings and background checks. Home interviews are conducted with all members of the family living at home.
“All of this plays a part in our decision to choose a family,” Hall-Landry said.
Once an individual is selected, 36 hours of training is required for state certification before a child can be placed with a foster parent.
For their efforts, foster parents receive a salary and board rate but no compensation for raising a child.
“One thing we say about our parents – they don’t do it for the money,” Hall-Landry said. “Most say it is a calling. It takes a special person to do therapeutic foster care.”
To ensure the well-being of children, the CCANO’s Therapeutic Foster Care program requires a minimum of 30 hours of annual training. Four hours are offered monthly by CCANO, but foster parents of medically fragile children can obtain training directly from a hospital. CCANO also visits the home twice monthly for a minimum of eight hours, depending on the needs of the child and the family.
Sometimes, there is time for a pre-placement visit of a child in a new foster home. Other times, immediate placement is done, Hall-Landry said, but it doesn’t worry her.
“Our foster parents are so welcoming to kids,” Hall-Landry said. “Foster parents have the training, and they understand some of the behavior based on the child’s diagnosis and are willing to be patient and understanding and show unconditional love and acceptance.”
Length of stay varies
The amount of time a foster child stays with a foster family varies from as little as two months to more than two years. The initial goal is reunification of children with their parents, Hall-Landry said. When that doesn’t happen, foster children remain in their foster homes and, in some cases, are adopted by foster parents.
Foster parents are not required to adopt, though. Some just prepare children for the next level of care or provide respite care – giving foster families and children a break from each other during the year.
“They are willing and able to let them go,” Hall-Landry said.
A prospective foster parent visited the Oct. 2 open house at Hope Haven in Marrero to learn more about Therapeutic Foster Care. She hopes to get involved due to an understanding of troubled youth.
“I just want to help as much as I can,” she said. “I’m not worried about their mental or other problems.”
She listened to veteran therapeutic foster parent Alice Skinner talk about the 15 to 20 foster children she’s raised over the past 15 years. Skinner currently has two therapeutic foster children in her care and said they are treated like her five biological children.
“I learned how to be more attentive to therapeutic kids and to recognize the problems they are having,” Skinner said. “I think every child should have a chance to have a decent life with a family. We’re here to help them.”
The success of the program is evident in the number of children who stay in contact with their foster parents long after teen years.
“We have kids who continue to visit their foster parents and even attend family reunions,” Patrice Delaney, therapeutic supervisor, said. “They become part of the family.”
“I think every parent in the program leaves something positive with the kids they foster,” Delaney said. “Whatever the kids need, they take something with them.”
To become a Therapeutic Foster Care foster family, contact 310-6939.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.