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JUNEAU– If you have love to give, there’s a child out there who can use it. According to Bunti Reed, program manager of the Family Resource Center at Catholic Community Services (CCS), the most important requirement for a foster parent is to love a child.
“It’s really simple,” Reed said. “We look for clean criminal records, stability, a safe environment and the willingness to acquire training. We try to do our best to give kids the best help so they can finish school and get the things they need to transition into adulthood.”
As of December 2008, there were 2,116 children in Alaska’s foster care system. Reed said there is always a need for foster families in Southeast for all ages of children, especially teenagers.
The folks at CCS in Juneau have been working for over 35 years to provide comprehensive social services to Southeast residents. The organization employs 250 workers and over 200 volunteers in several areas, including children’s and family resources.
CCS specializes in therapeutic foster care, which provides an elevated level of support for children who face either medical challenges or emotional disturbances. CCS works closely with the State Office of Children’s Services while licensing parents and placing children. All foster parents are reimbursed for expenses, and therapeutic foster parents are provided with special support.
“When children are removed from their family, it doesn’t always mean that the parents don’t love their children or vice versa,” Reed said. “That’s rare. It’s just due to a lack of parenting knowledge.”
CCS supports natural parents as well, providing training for them while their children are in foster homes. According to Reed, 54 percent of children are reunited with their families after going through the foster care process. The other 46 percent are adopted, often by relatives, or are permanently placed with a foster family.
Lori King became a foster parent with the idea of putting her spare bedroom to good use. Through her profession of working with children in the mental health capacity, she had seen many kids who were in need and felt that she had something to offer. She became a licensed foster care provider and ended up with three foster daughters over a period of about six years.
“There’s always the honeymoon period,” Kind said. “At first it’s a little awkward getting to know each other, but you’ve got to find ways to get to know each other and weed out what issues there might be. It’s tough but rewarding. I think in the end it equals to be more of a blessing when you see the kids graduate out of the system.”
King’s three foster daughters have become “beautiful people who give back to the community,” she said. Since they left her home, they are working and living independently and still have a relationship with King.
There isn’t necessarily a foster family formula. When King was fostering, she was a single mother with three children of her own, one of whom had a disability requiring special needs.
“Family can mean a lot of different things,” King said.
King said she has seen foster families with older parents, younger parents, single parents and same-sex parents.
“There are all kinds of families that can provide good homes,” King said.
King liked her foster parenting experience so much that she and her partner, who now have a two-year-old child, plan to get relicensed and put the spare room to use once again.
King’s advice to others who may be interested in foster parenting is to pursue it.
“Do the paperwork and go to the training classes,” King said. “Through that process, you’re going to find out more about it and whether you will be a good applicant or not. But if you don’t pursue the process, you’re never going to know. There are a lot of kids out there that you can benefit.”