SIMCOE MUSKOKA FAMILY CONNEXIONS
Recruiting foster caregivers has been a struggle for many years, but with a critical shortage of homes, local child, youth and family services agency Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions (SMFC) is hoping to shine a light on the current need with the launch of a recruitment website to attract new interest.
“Having adequate numbers of foster families,” says Melanie McLearon, director of communications and community relations at SMFC, “ensures children in our communities have access to supportive and caring environments while their families work through challenges they are facing.”
Right now, with many long-term foster caregivers retiring, there just isn’t enough interest to replace them. During the pandemic, many people have felt isolated. SMFC hopes that even though the pandemic has been tough, it may have sparked a newfound connection to community and with more work flexibility, it could have a direct positive effect on people’s interest in becoming foster caregivers.
“With so few foster parents in our region,” says McLearon, “most people don’t personally know any nor what it takes to become one and the impression is that you have to be a super hero to foster, and that’s just not the case.”
Foster caregivers are regular people doing what’s needed to help kids, families and their community. And contrary to some misconceptions, perfection is not the goal – but finding individuals or couples with a genuine interest in children and a sense of community responsibility is. Diversity is also seen as a strength and a need.
Caregivers are being sought that are as unique and diverse as the children and youth that need temporary care. SMFC looks for singles, couples, and families from a variety of ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, of any sexual orientation, speaking different languages and with a variety of childcare experience.
Another key change in fostering in recent years is the commitment to ensuring that all children that need temporary care are immersed in their culture, with an understanding of their personal identities and with their primary language. Identities that are specifically needed are caregivers who are Francophone, Métis, Black or of African descent and/or from the LGBT2SQ+ communities.
The role of a foster caregiver is such an important one for strengthening families and one where individuals can make a big difference in many lives. “The ultimate goal,” McLearon says, “is to reunite children with their parents. So really, fostering is families helping families.”
Having more foster caregivers across the region will help provide stability in a very unstable period of a young person’s life. Children and youth loose so much if they have to leave the area for a temporary care arrangement. Staying in their home community, means a child can remain enrolled in their school, surrounded by friends and other adults that can support them.
Family Connexions is encouraging community members living anywhere across Simcoe County and Muskoka to recognize their shared responsibility and ensure that families have a place for and supportive people to care for their children and youth, if and when needed.
McLearon hopes that appealing to people’s restored sense of being there for one another through the pandemic might encourage more to think about fostering. “It really is what the saying says – it takes a village to raise a child. We really hope we can find more community members to step up to help.”
If you’re interested in making a difference, visit their foster recruitment website at fosterconnexions.ca to learn more or call the foster recruitment hotline at 705-726-6587, ext. 2259.