May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections. The focus of National Foster Care Month, which began in 1988, is ensuring a bright future for the more than 440,000 US children and youth in foster care, and celebrating those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Gándara Center’s foster care program has been placing youth in temporary, safe, therapeutic home environments for over 30 years. We provide intensive case management, transportation, and recreational opportunities for youth, along with 24-hour on-call support for families.

Cassandra Joseph, who has been a Gándara foster parent for seven children between 4 and 15 in the last five years, says her experience has been rewarding because she likes giving kids and teens a “second chance” at a happy, healthy life. There are also struggles and challenges, but for those who are sensitive to the children’s circumstances—many of them have been removed from their biological parents because of abuse or neglect—the benefits of making a big difference in a child’s life are immeasurable.

And Gándara Center works alongside foster families—every step of the way.

“I receive a lot of support from Gándara Center,” says Cassandra. “Any help I need—Gándara is right there.” Gándara’s team approach involves ongoing consultation and resources, including specialized case managers visiting the foster home once a week, and a family resource manager visiting the home once a month. If needed, our agency’s in-home therapists are available to work with the exclusive needs of these children. Also, every one of our foster parents receives 30 hours of high-quality pre-service training, according to Nicole Coughlin, director of intensive foster care at Gándara Center. “And every year, every foster parent completes 20 hours of additional training,” says Nicole. “Intensive foster care is a about finding the right match. We help prepare these families for a successful child placement. That’s one reason we enjoy a good retention rate among our foster parents.”

Gándara 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 children involved in such activities as after-school programs, camps, and sports,” says Nicole.

Jule Mitchell, who has been a Gándara foster parent for more than 20 years, also notes Gándara’s support in helping solve problems and build relationships. “Gándara has been absolutely wonderful,” she says. “The case managers are 100 percent dedicated. They really try to help keep the foster family unity working well.”

Those who have ever considered becoming foster parents should know that they are desperately needed. There is a drastic shortage of foster parents both locally and nationally. An April 6 story in the Boston Globe makes it clear that the supply of foster homes doesn’t come close to the demand for them. This problem, exacerbated by the opioid crisis, has seen the number of Massachusetts children in foster care spike by almost 20 percent—to roughly 9,200—in the last five years, according to the story.

This placement crisis makes opening your home—and heart—to a foster child more important now than ever. Moreover, providing a stable and secure environment is not only rewarding for the child, but also the foster parent.

“The best part of foster care is when you connect with the kids and they begin to feel like they’re part of your home,” says Jule. “You have to build their trust. When it happens, it’s special.”

One of the drawbacks of foster care, of course, is that it’s usually tough for foster parents to say goodbye to the child or teen. The initial placement goal is to reunite children with their birth families, so foster care is a temporary situation. The good news is that many former foster children keep in touch with their foster parents after they leave. That certainly is the case with Cassandra and Jule—as well as Elsa Dones, who has been a Gándara Center foster parent for seven years.

“One of my former foster children named her son after my husband,” says Jule. Elsa has also formed life-long relationships with her foster children. “When we have Christmas and Easter over my sister’s house, seven of my former foster children come to visit,” says Elsa. “Fostering children is a blessing.”

 

Want to become a Gándara Center foster parent? Here’s how.

If you are considering fostering a child through Gándara Center, below are the requirements to get started. You must:

  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Possess a high school degree, G.E.D. or equivalent
  • Submit to and pass a Criminal Offenses Record Investigation (CORI)
  • Reliable income to meet current basic household needs and expenses
  • Own, have available at all times, and be licensed to operate a motor vehicle
  • Provide references
  • Pass a home assessment
  • Be physically and mentally capable of providing adequate care and response to a foster youth

Those interested should contact: Nicole Coughlin at ncoughlin@gandaracenter.org or 413-736-2359 x 4701.