LIHUE — Rocky Pascua makes sure every foster child who comes through her door is treated like her own.
“I tell them they didn’t have a mom and dad before, but now they do,” she said. “We all support each other, whether they’re in a sport or not. It’s like having your own kids at home.”
The family also has dinner together every night at 6 p.m., she said.
“Even though the family is all scattered, we still come together every night for dinner; it’s quality time,” she said.
Pascua, a five-year therapeutic foster parent, takes in children referred from Hale Opio. She has opened her home to 13 children from around the island, ranging in ages from 8 to 19.
Across the nation, the number of children in foster care increased in 2016. It’s the third year in a row the numbers have increased, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The report counted 427,910 children in the foster-care system, which is an increase of more than 13,000 from the previous year.
A spike in parental substance abuse is the cause behind the increase in foster children, who are removed from their home because their biological parents use opioids and methamphetamine, the report said.
Currently, there are 95 children in foster care on the Garden Isle, according to the Department of Human Services.
Of that number, the ages of the children are as follows:
w 0 to 5: 36
w 6 to 11: 36
w 12 to 17: 23
Hale Opio helps some of these children in a variety of ways, from providing emergency shelter for kids who have been taken from their home, to offering therapeutic family homes for children who need a nurturing environment, said LaVerne Bishop, managing director.
The organization also holds monthly group activities, like horseback riding, ziplining, bowling and board-game nights for foster children, and financial-literacy classes.
Two years ago, Hale Opio started a voluntary case- management program, called Imua Kakou, for 18-to-21-year-olds who age out of foster care, Bishop said.
Imua Kakou, which is headed by two case managers — Patricia Duh and Jamie Kai — teaches young adults how to have successful adult lives.
Duh and Kai help their clients find housing, open bank accounts and get medical insurance. They meet monthly with the participants to track their progress.
“We help them make a game plan for what they want to achieve in life,” Duh said.
Duh, who participated in the program before being hired as case manager, said the most rewarding part about working with the young adults is watching them learn to thrive on their own.
“You know they’re coming in with not a lot of knowledge in a lot of the areas. At first, there’s a lot of hand-holding, but then you get to the part where they are doing stuff on their own, and you have your monthly meetings with them, and they tell you what they’ve accomplished without your help,” she said. “So seeing them progress to become a successful adult is the most rewarding part.”
There are nine people in the program.
Becoming a professional parent
Hale Opio offers 24 hours of training in a variety of topics, including:
w Positive behavior management
w Adolescent development and trauma-informed care
w Rights and responsibilities of youth
w Team-based decisions
w Evidence-based treatment
w Medication delegation protocols
Potential therapeutic foster parents also go through a series of interviews, a background check and home study before they are licensed, Bishop said.
Hale Opio has three homes that offer fostering services.
Pascua also does her own research to prepare for children who have learning disorders or who are dealing with specific issues or medical concerns.
“If a child has a disorder, and there’s no training on it, I go online, study it and ask the doctor,” she said.
For example, Pascua fostered a child who had Type 1 diabetes. After trying to learn about the disease on her own, she realized she needed additional help, so she took an eight-hour course.
Other challenges include a child who is violent, which affects the whole family. During her time as a professional parent, Pascua said she had one child who was violent toward her.
“My daughter couldn’t take it, so emotionally, she was a wreck,” she said.
One way Pascua handles emotionally charged moments is walking away to let the situation simmer down.
“We try to do the preventive as much as we can,” she said. “So you’re trained to go through that process, but if it escalates, you have numbers to call.”
Taking care of keiki
Caring for others is in Pascua’s blood.
“My family has always been caregivers. My grandma took care of hospice patients, delivered food and laundry to the elderly,” she said.
When Pascua gets a new foster child, one of her first goals is to get them involved in something in the community, whether it be playing sports or volunteering.
“You try a little bit of everything; you want to try to keep them involved,” she said. “We try to get the kid to be as normal as they can because they are very well aware they’re not, especially the ones with disorders like ADD or ODD.”
Giving support, encouragement
But no matter what condition they have been diagnosed with or what issues they are facing, every child who comes through Pascua’s doors gets individual attention.
“Sometimes, it’s just about being there. Knowing there’s someone for them to lend an ear is a big thing,” she said.
There’s a balance between recognizing the child’s past and focusing on the future, she said.
“I try to be aware of their past, but I want to pretty much wipe everything out of their head and start all over,” she said. “I like doing that.”
The longest she’s fostered a child is 2 1/2 years. The shortest was two weeks.
But no matter the duration of the stay, Pascua said she makes sure the children know her door is always open.
“I just tell them my favorite is Thanksgiving or Christmas, and they’re always welcome,” she said. “Our door is always open to say hello, and they know that.”
The role of a professional parent is important because it provides a healthy relationship with an adult that the kids are lacking, Bishop said.
“Children in foster care may be grieving the loss of their family, their innocence, their school, their neighborhood, their trust of caretakers to provide a safe and nurturing home,” she said. “They may believe they need to be home to prevent their family from abusing alcohol and other drugs, or abusing each other. The fear, the powerlessness, the vulnerability, the trauma has to be replaced with authentic connections to people who will remain significant to their development — to allow the child to learn and grow.”
The most rewarding part about being a foster parent is helping them succeed, whether it’s being reunited with family or striking out on their own, she said.
“Out of all the jobs I had — I’ve worked in a bank and a grocery store, and I have my own business — this is the most rewarding job, as hard as it may be,” she said. “This is the job I love the most.”
She also urges anyone considering foster care to give it a try.
“If your house is big enough and your heart is big enough, at least try it out,” she said.
Those interested in becoming a professional parent can call Kevin Lowry, treatment programs director, at 634-4636.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.