Wednesday 12 August, 2020

Foster care can make a difference

Foster Parent, Eloise Dawson Robinson, who is involved in the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) Foster Care Programme. (Photo: Via JIS)

Foster Parent, Eloise Dawson Robinson, who is involved in the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) Foster Care Programme. (Photo: Via JIS)

Thirty-year-old Krishendale Panton says her experience in foster care was very pleasant, as she was loved by her foster mother.

“I was treated no differently from her birth children. As a matter of fact, my foster mother was more protective of me than her own,” she tells JIS News.

At three years old, young Krishendale became a ward of the State and soon after was placed into foster care with a family, which she describes as loving and caring.

“Because I was fostered and not adopted, I was going back and forth from my foster home to State care; however, I never felt that I was not a part of the family,” Panton says.

“Even for the times that I would be back in State care, my foster mother ensured that I was not in need of anything. I still got my lunch money, she enlisted me into the Girls’ Brigade, and sent me on trips. I think I was blessed to have her in my life. I think one day I will follow her footsteps and foster a child,” she adds.

Foster Care Officer at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), South East Region, Georgia Edwards, explains that foster care is a temporary legal process that allows non-biological parents to provide children in State care with a home, “a nurturing environment which should contribute positively to the child’s overall development”.

Every year, the CPFSA ramps up its public education campaign during Foster Care Week, which is observed in February, to bring greater awareness and to encourage more Jamaicans to be part of the Foster Care Programme.

Miss Edwards tells JIS News that while foster care is temporary, adoption on the other hand is a permanent legal process where parents transfer their biological rights to the adoptive parents.

She points out that some children may not be available for adoption, for example, those who are born to teenage mothers or mothers who may not have the resources to properly take care of the child, but do not want to relinquish their rights to the child.

The Foster Care Programme is the CPFSA’s flagship family-based programme where wards of the State are placed in homes to be part of a family. Currently, there are 1,037 children in foster care and 833 foster families.

To become a foster parent, one has to be a responsible adult in good legal standing, and be between 25 and 65 years old. Consideration is given to persons over 65 years old if they are related to the child.

The person may be single, or be part of a couple. There are exceptional cases for a single man, such as someone who is deemed a mentor, a godfather, or if the biological parents indicate that an individual can foster their child.

The application process, which takes three to six months, includes filling out a form that should be submitted along with two references from a notary public, who may be a minister of religion, a justice of the peace, lawyer, doctor, school principal or a senior police officer, and two notarised photographs.

Applicants will be interviewed and may also be required to submit medical and police records. They must also agree for CPFSA’s officers to conduct a home assessment, which is very critical to the process.

Miss Edwards is appealing to Jamaicans to become foster parents. 

“Being a foster parent can be very fulfilling. Outside of having a child of your own, when you are making a positive impact on a child’s life, and you witness the change and see them succeed, it feels good,” she says.

She laments, however, that oftentimes teenagers are overlooked, because persons tend to say they give a lot of trouble, but they just need someone to mentor and care for them.

Miss Edwards is, therefore, encouraging more persons to open their homes to teenagers because “every child needs a home”. 

Eloise Dawson Robinson tells JIS News that she has no regrets being a foster mother.

“Words cannot express how I feel, because when I remember where they are coming from and where they are now, my heart swells with pride,” she says.

In 2009, Dawson Robinson had a discussion with her husband and two biological children and they agreed to become a foster family.

She notes that soon after the decision was taken, she got a call that there were three siblings, aged three, five and seven who were in need of care, and her name was given.

“It was very challenging, because they were coming from a different background with special needs, behavioural problems, among other issues, but as a family and with support from the CPFSA, formerly the Child Development Agency, we dealt with that,” Dawson Robinson says.

“The plus side to this is that the children are my relatives. Their father died and their mother did not care. I did not know my biological father growing up, so they are my connection to that side of the family, so when I got the opportunity to foster them, I knew that I had to do so, because I did not want them to get lost in the system,” she tells JIS News.

The children are now 14, 16 and 18 years old. The youngest attends a high school where he was placed after sitting GSAT; the second goes to a school where she is functioning, and according to Dawson Robinson, placed first in her class from her last semester report; while the eldest attends a special needs institution.

“Once you have love in your heart, especially for children, I encourage you to make the decision to be a foster parent. I have not regretted one day having them here. When I see the difference right now, in spite of all the challenges, just knowing that my family was able to help gives me great satisfaction. They are so expressive right now, especially the youngest [who] is too expressive, but I love that,” she says.

Persons who are interested in becoming a foster parent, may contact the CPFSA at 876-948-2841-2 or visit any of their offices islandwide for further information.

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