More foster parents needed for Kitsap County

Rupa Dara, a self-employeed chiropractor, has always had a love for children. Now, she has two young ones that call her “Mimi.” She’s not their grandmother, but a foster mother to them.

“If you can provide it, provide it,” Dara said. “If you have a love for children, you can do this.”

It wasn’t until Dara recently became a foster parent and became closer to the situations of parenting, that she realized there is a need for more foster homes. She hasn’t once questioned her decision to open her Bremerton home to foster children.

“You look at their faces and think, ‘OK, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do,’” she said Monday.

People like Dara are making a positive contribution to the lives of children but it’s no question that more foster parents are needed in the Kitsap area. In addition, having a diverse pool of foster parents is also just as important, say foster care recruiters and regional administrators with the state Department of Children and Family Services.

Phyllis Bishop, a recruiter and mentor of the Foster Care Resource Network for Kitsap County, said that a recent situation occurred where her boss told her to look — and get the word out — for Muslim families that would be able to become licensed foster care providers. In one case, Muslim children were placed in a Christian foster home, which led to issues with food and prayer, said Bishop. The children had to be removed and were placed in another home.

Henry Castanares and his wife were foster parents for more than 18 years. They cared for infants to teenagers in their East Bremerton home until last summer. A protestant couple, Casatanares said they took their foster children to church with them regularly and never came across a problem with that.

With the teenagers they cared for, they would explain what to expect at the service beforehand, Castanares said.

“It wasn’t a big issue at the time,” he said. “We let the children go with what they believed in, we didn’t force anything on them.”

Castanares said his family was fortunate to not come across any big cultural or religious differences that made it so the children had to be removed from their home. Foster parents have the choice on whether or not to take a child in and the Castanares never turned anyone away.

However, not all transitions are that smooth.

“The biological parents have the right to say ‘My child’s not going to that church’ and the foster family has to go along with that,” Bishop said.

Bishop, who has been a foster parent for nine years herself, said religion isn’t the only factor that could play into an uneasy or difficult foster care placement for children. Other differences including ethnicity, or having a military background, could also make for challenges.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Bishop cared for a teenager who came from a military family, and with Bishop being non-military, she had some hurdles. She had to gain access to go on base to take him to the doctor — all his counseling and medical check-ups were through the Navy — and also to go to Naval Hospital Bremerton, she was required to fill out extra paperwork to get past security.

But, not only was getting on base or into the hospital more time consuming for Bishop, many things are unfamiliar territory for a civilian.

“It’s a different culture. I don’t know all the rules in dealing with the people,” she said.

The main point in having foster parents that have similar backgrounds as the children they will care for is to keep some form of consistency in the young ones’ changing living situation. Bishop said military, black and Native American foster parents are always in need.

“It won’t be as traumatic if there’s some consistency, with religious values or cultural values,” said Ursula Petters, the area administrator for the Department of Children and Family Services.

There is no minimum or maximum length of stay for a child in foster care as the situation is evaluated on a case by case basis. The goal is to return children with family as soon as possible or to get them adopted, said Petters. However, sometimes the process isn’t as quick as they would like.

“We work with children to [gain] permanency, whether that’s returning home, a guardianship or adoption,” said Petters. “Children who grow up in foster care who age out have worse outcomes than those who do not, and it’s not a reflection on the foster parents.”

There are 382 children under court supervision with some form of placement whether it be in foster care or with a relative in the county, according the DCFS. There are 233 licensed foster homes in the county. These figures are “snapshots” to date as of Monday, said Petters.

Although the number of licensed homes are more than 200, Petters said it includes people who become licensed to care for a specific child within their family and do not take in general children.

“There are more relatives being licensed now, we’re in need of general-use foster homes. There’s definitely a need to take in sibling groups and teenagers,” said Linda Kalinowski, area administrator for the division of license resources with DCFS.

When someone wants to become a foster parent, the process begins with an orientation that describes the requirements followed by a 27-hour pre-service, which is training, said Kalinowski. The next orientation in Bremerton is April 16.

After completing the training, the applicant is given the application, which includes a complete background check and receiving CPR and first aid training as well as doing a TB test. The state covers the costs of all these items. Finally, there is a walk through of the home individually with the caregivers, if there will be more than one in the household. Things the licensor checks for include appropriate number of beds and safety equipment such as fire extinguishers.

Depending on the type of license individuals apply for and receive, determines the specifics of their foster home including whether they can care for multiple children, those with special medical needs or the age range of the children.

Dara began the process to become a foster parent in September and was licensed in January. About three weeks after receiving her license, she was caring for the two children who are currently with her. Her home is licensed to care for up to two children.

Traci Eveland, the lead recruiter for Pierce County with the Foster Care Resource Network, said the number one comment she hears from people on the fence of becoming foster parents is having to see the children leave them when they return to their biological parents or relatives.

“A lot of people are afraid of the good-byes. People think they would get too attached,” Eveland said. “I thought that as well, but we decided to do it anyway.”

Eveland and her husband’s home have been licensed to take care of two children for six years. She was adopted as a child and said this is her way of giving back.

“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” she said.

For Dara, spending time and caring for the kids is worth it despite the potential for sad good-byes later.

“Why wouldn’t I do something worthy of breaking my heart?” she asked.

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