Vermont in need of more foster parents

Foster parents play a vital role in a child’s life if they become in the custody of the state. As May wraps up so does foster care month in Vermont.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 5:25 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Foster parents and other volunteers can play a vital role in a child’s life. As Foster Care Month wraps up, Vermont officials are reminding the public that there are many ways you can help make a difference.

The Vermont Department for Children and Families said on any given day there are around 1,060 children in state custody and approximately 900 licensed foster families.

“Being able to give these children some love and some, some appreciation, and you know, letting them know their value,” said Kate Slocum, who along with her husband have been foster parents for two and a half years. They opened their doors at the height of the pandemic and around a dozen children have spent time with them. “Just thinking about putting yourself in a situation where this is a new space for you and for the child and it might be really uncomfortable. And so what are those comfort items that you can have available for the child could stick with? They can take it.”

Slocum says the children have stayed from just an overnight, to a weekend, to 17 months. They’ve hosted kids ranging from ages four to 17. She says it’s a fulfilling experience but like anything else, comes with challenges. “We went into this thinking we’ve raised our child, we know what it’s like to be a parent. And it is -- you do have those skills for sure -- but it is different and there’s a lot to learn,” said Slocum.

Slocum said DCF reaches out when they have a child ready to be placed in a home. Sometimes there’s preparation, other times there’s an emergency where a child joins their home a few hours later.

Carrie Deem with DCF said if a child enters state custody, they seek out other family members to take care of the child. In that kinship and family process, members often receive a provisional license while they get certified. If a kinship family isn’t available, that’s where foster parents come in. But sometimes it takes time to find the correct match.

“We might have a family that’s willing to take a child but it might not be a good match. Thinking about how many families we actually need in order to say, ‘Sarah just came into custody, let’s explore these 10 families. This one’s in her school district. This one is into soccer...’ You know, all of the things that really make up a family,” said Deem.

Deem said there are some cases where children are placed temporarily in the police department or the emergency room until they can find an appropriate place. And the pandemic added strain that is felt both in and out of DCF. “When you think about our resources for children that are in custody, we are one small, small part of this. And so we have mental health services and we have residential programs and we have substance abuse treatment and we have a variety of different resources that we work with. And when those resources are also impacted by the pandemic -- staffing being a huge issue -- that it’s a trickle-down effect to our kiddos,” said Deem.

For the children on the other end, Vermont Youth Development Program’s Lucy Bolognese said a lack of connection caused by COVID felt even more enhanced for those who might not have familial support. “They had trouble with finding community and feeling connected even more so than I think the general populace, just because they don’t have that support network of like a family and sometimes they don’t even have like friends or something,” said Bolognese.

Even for those who aren’t able to be foster parents, Bolognese says a little can go a long way. “Show up for a young person in their life. You’ll never know when a kid will remember that and see that as kind of the best thing in their life at the moment or in the past,” said Bolognese.

Deem said children reunify with their parents around 50% of the time here in Vermont.

Click here to find out more about foster care options.

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