Foster parents give our communities’ most vulnerable children a chance to prosper emotionally mentally, physically, and socially. Those who have ever considered being foster parents should know that they are desperately needed—there is a drastic shortage of foster parents both locally and nationally.

Opening your heart and home to a child who has experienced abuse and/or neglect—one who is looking for a safe, temporary, therapeutic home—is a huge commitment. But although there are challenges, there are also benefits, such as the sense of accomplishment in making a big difference in the child’s life. “Providing a loving, nurturing home to a child in need is incredibly meaningful and important,” said Nicole Coughlin, director of intensive foster care at the Gándara Center. “It’s not always easy, but the emotional rewards of the experience are immeasurable.”

There is a national shortage of foster parents for a variety of reasons. In many states, including Massachusetts, there is an increase of children being placed into care because of an increase in parental substance use problems. In Massachusetts, the number of children under 18 in state or foster care hit a record low in 2012, but since then, that number has risen by 25 percent. Now there are 9,458 children in state care (7,538 of them in foster care), which is an all-time high. Other areas in the country struggle with foster parent recruitment and retention.

Simply put, there are too few homes for too many foster kids. At Gándara, however, we believe there are no unwanted children, just unfound families. And we help prepare these families for a successful child placement. That is one reason we enjoy a good retention rate among our foster parents.

Those who become foster parents through the Gándara Center receive ongoing support through specialized case managers and services, 24-hour on-call staff, and training. “Our foster parents receive a lot of support,” said Coughlin. “Our case managers are in the home weekly, and we have a family resource manager in the home once a month.”

Elsa Dones, who has been a Gándara Center foster parent for seven years, never hesitates to tell potential foster parents about the joys of her experience. “I tell them that there are also struggles, but Gándara is there for you,” she said. She described the agency’s ongoing consultation, training, and resources  as a “team” approach to foster care. “That’s what makes Gándara so special,” she said.

Our Foster parents receive a daily tax-free stipend per child to help provide basic food and shelter needs, supervision, support and safety. “We also assist the parents in getting the child involved in such activities as after-school programs, camps, and sports,” said Coughlin.

Foster parenting gives the gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion—and gives foster children a chance at a good life.

For information about the Gándara Center’s foster parenting requirements, visit https://gandaracenter.org/become-a-foster-parent/ or contact Nicole Coughlin at 413-2359, x247 or ncoughlin@gandaracenter.org.