May is National Foster Care Month: Part 1

“There are more than 1,300 children in the state of Hawaii alone that are waiting for someone to provide the love and support that they desperately need at such a critical point in their life.” So states the flier created by “Partners in Development,” a Hawaiian foster care outreach of social services. Social services includes Child Protective Services, which is called when children are believed to be suffering from their present home conditions.

It’s been almost 100 years since our government realized that children who needed to be temporarily removed from their homes fared much better in other homes that offered a nurturing home life than in institutions.The Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsors National Foster Care Month every year in May. Their website is www.childwelfare.gov. The theme this year is “Get to Know the Many Faces of Foster Care.”

The hope is always that the placement will be nurturing, tending to the multi-level needs that young developing people have. It is a basic need to feel loved and appreciated by one’s family or community. It is a basic need to feel safe, emotionally and physically. It is a basic need to consume healthy food to build healthy bodies. The most essential time in a child’s development is between birth and age 6. They’re developing language, memory, how to relate to people, learning the basics of what’s right and what’s wrong, learning how to learn, how to use their bodies, how to trust, and more.

Cocaine and methamphetamine use have been proven to destroy a mother’s instinctive mothering ability. Violence in the home is another cause for foster placement. Even if children are not the victims of the violence, observing it hinders their mental development. When the parents can’t care for themselves, the children suffer. Child welfare services remove children from a home as a last resort.

“Foster care is also called “Out-of-Home-Care,” and includes family foster care, kinship care, treatment foster care, and residential and group care.

“Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children’s connections with their families. Kinship care is often considered a type of family preservation service.

“Kinship care may be formal and involve a training and licensure process for the caregivers, monthly payments to help defray the costs of caring for the child, and support services. Kinship care also may be informal and involve only an assessment process to ensure the safety and suitability of the home along with supportive services for the child and caregivers. Approximately one-fourth of the children in out-of-home care are living with relatives.”

“Residential programs work with children whose specific needs are best addressed in a structured environment. Examples include community-based group homes for adolescents who are involved in the juvenile justice system and residential campus facilities for children and youth with mental health or behavioral problems. Residential programs may be operated by public or private agencies and often provide an array of services, including therapeutic services for children and families, and educational and medical services for children or youth.”

Child and Family Services on Kauai has their central office at 2970 Kele St. No. 203, Lihue, HI 96766, (808) 245-5914. They also have Nana’s House Family Center on the Westside at 9875 Waimea Road, Waimea, HI, 96796, (808) 338-0252; and Hale Ho‘omalu Family Center on the east side at 4-1112 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746, (808) 821.2520

They offer services to all families, even before the need to remove children from the home. Their mission is: Strengthening families and fostering the healthy development of children

Emergency shelter services and therapeutic crisis homes are provided by Hale ‘Opio Kauai (HOK) (2959 Umi St. Lihue HI 96766, (808) 245-2873) in individual “host” homes for boys and girls, ages birth to 18 years, in need of sanctuary, counseling, and crisis stabilization. Services and referrals are provided to return the young person home as soon as possible. The normal activities of the youth, including school or work, continue while they are in placement.

Sometimes children who need to be removed from their family homes have special needs, whether emotional, behavioral, mental or social. They receive treatment or therapeutic foster care. This can occur in a family where the children receive counseling services, and the family is closely supervised. HOK offers such a program. Youths’ birth families participate in weekly therapy and attend Ohana outings.

HOK’s Transitional Family Home Program is an intensive system of supportive and clinical services offered in a family based treatment model. An alternative to both the tra-ditional foster family home and congregate care for youth who are not adequately served in either program type. A unique feature of family based treatment is its emphasis on the Professional Parent as an “agent of treatment” rather than as a caregiver or warden only.

HOK offers an Independent Living Program for young adults ages 17 to 22 lacking the attitudes, skills, and resources for independent living are provided a safe family setting in which to learn and practice the necessary skills to successfully transition into adult life.

Hawaii Behavioral Health also offers foster care and other services for youth. They have an office at 3-3122 Kuhio Hwy., Suite A-15, Lihue, HI 96766-1157 Tel: (808) 246-9102 Fax: (808) 246-8609 Office Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

The point of having a National Foster Care Awareness month is for people everywhere to know how to help our children and their families get the services they need. If a family is having a rough patch, they need to know that there is help. Sometimes families who are in trouble don’t know it. Yelling and disrespectful or even violent behavior is not nurtur-ing. Yet it may be the environment that the parent grew up in and don’t know otherwise. Let there be a new kind of “Neighborhood Watch.”

For far too long there has been the attitude that “It’s not my family, and not my business.” But it seems to be morphing into, “I am my brother’s keeper,” and that “what helps one, helps us all.” We can’t approach families from the approach that “We know better than you, but perhaps from “I care for you and your family, is there anything I can do to help?”

We have to ask ourselves, “Can I live with myself if there is permanent damage done to a child that I might have prevented?” The Child Protective Services of Hawaii’s reporting number is toll free at 1-800-494-3991.

The “It Takes an Ohana” website offers a whole section on Parent Resources, and every organization that screens for suitable Foster Parents offers education, counseling and support when needed. Families are supervised. It has to be. Parents are paid for their services, and specific standards of care must be met. Every job has a supervisor, unless you work for yourself, and from what I’ve observed, the self-employed have the toughest inner critics!

It Takes An Ohana (ITAO) became a part of Family Programs Hawaii’s (FPH) in 2010, allowing ITAO to renew our concentration on our core mission with greater support and resources. Their mission is to be a source for services to help foster youth and their foster families. It offers a whole section on parent resources, and every organization that screens for suitable foster parents offers education, counseling and support when needed. Families are supervised. ITAO’s online brochure for parents, current and former foster children up to age 21 is www.itao.org.

If it takes a village, we know that Kauai can really shine. Ohana is already strong here. Families may choose to enroll in kinship care services and receive some financial support for your care as well. Thank you so much to the ohana already helping with their displaced biological children, and thank you also to you beautiful souls who risk opening your heart and home to a foster child. May many blessings come to you all.

Questions?

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Annaleah Atkinson is a volunteer with Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i, a support group for teens and their families. Email your questions or concerns to aatkinson@haleopio.org.

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