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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Community Interview

Here's What's Right With Foster Care

May 06, 2000

May is National Foster Parent Recognition Month. There are 13,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles County and more who would be placed in foster care if more homes willing to take them in could be found.

MARCELA ROJAS spoke with a director of a Highland Park-based private foster family agency about the shortage of foster care homes.

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JOAN PROBST

Director of community programs, Optimist Youth Homes

Foster parents get a lot of negative press. The stories that get covered are disasters. The good things aren't always reported. What ends up happening is that foster parents don't feel appreciated. In order to convince them to continue in this work, we have to make sure the community understands their valuable contributions.

There's really a shortage of foster parents. We need to nurture our families and let them know they have support. It's hard raising someone else's children. Of course, our primary job is making sure these kids are safe, but we also need to make sure that the parents' needs and concerns are met. Because if they get too stressed out and quit, who's going to take care of the kids?

These days, kids have more problems than ever. There's more methamphetamine use, homelessness, poverty, a lot of issues that plague our society and affect the behavior of these kids.

There's this perception that foster parents do it for the money. Usually they get from $500 to $700 a month, depending on the child's age. But teachers, school personnel and even doctors think this way, and with that goes the idea that the kids are not getting the proper food, they're all sleeping in the garage and not being nurtured. That's just not true. Not in my agency. Most of our foster parents go into their own pockets to provide for these kids. It's common for our foster parents to adopt these kids if it doesn't work out with their birth parents. These are things that must not go unmentioned.

If I could be granted one wish, it would be to change the image of foster families, because they really don't get the respect they deserve, and it scares people away from getting involved because of what they hear.

In our agency, we visit the homes once a week. We guarantee that the kids are provided transportation, nutritious foods, safety, allowances and recreational activity and that they are doing well in school. And at the same time, we support the [foster] parents.

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