SIDNEY — November is known as National Adoption Awareness Month. To honor this, SAFY of Sidney has been working to bring attention to the growing need for foster and adoptive parents in the Sidney area and beyond.
SAFY, which stands for Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth, is a national non-profit organization. Originating in 1984, this program works to provide community-based care for children, along with a self-proclaimed mission to preserve families and secure futures.
SAFY strives to also provide a focus on treatment and mental health services for the children, who often suffer from some type of trauma as a result of their circumstances.
“We provide therapeutic foster care,” said SAFY of Sidney Foster Parent Recruiter Lisa Barham. “So, we train our parents to work with children from a trauma background. That’s one way we differ from traditional family foster care.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 303 million children are victims of abuse each year, resulting in 251,000 new placements in foster care.
While a significant portion of children entering foster care have a background of abuse or neglect, Barham pointed out that this is not always the case.
“Sometimes there may be a need in the home, such as unstable housing,” Barham said. “Children may be placed in foster care while parents find that stability.”
The need for temporary care has increased in recent years due to the opioid and heroin crisis, which, according to Attorney General Mike DeWine, has resulted in an increase of nearly 3,000 children within the child welfare system today, compared to when the opioid crisis began seven years ago.
“We noticed there are more sibling groups, and there’s more work toward reunification for permanency and kinship care for permanency rather than foster-to-adopt,” Barham said. “It’s a lot of emphasis on helping the children go back to their families after their parents have recovered.”
Barham also noted the public reaction regarding the opioid and heroin crisis, and said those who wish to make a positive impact in response should consider donating their time and energy to spread awareness of the critical need for foster parents.
“What I’ve noticed, especially with the heroin and opiate crisis, is that there’s so much anger toward the adults,” Barham said. “I want to try to channel that passion and those strong feelings into (a way to) help the kids. They need our voice; they need your voice.”
Barham said one of the easiest ways to help is to simply spread the word and make others aware of the issue.
“One way that I promote when I’m out in public is (by telling people to) like our Facebook page, share our events, just spread the word,” she said.
Of course, SAFY is also asking anyone who is interested in the possibility of becoming a foster or adoptive parent to reach out.
Prospective foster parents are given the tools and training necessary to prepare them for the task of fostering children from diverse backgrounds, and can be licensed within about 90 days of application.
“We have 12 pre-service classes that cover a range of topics,” Barham said. “Some of our classes include trauma and its affects, abuse, child protection team, the affects of caregiving, managing emotions, long-term separation, post-adoption issues, and differences in placement.”
Barham also said foster parents can rest assured that they will be given support throughout the entire fostering experience.
“There are challenges, but they can be overcome,” she said. “One of the things we provide is 24-hour support, so if ever there was a situation, it’s nice to know there’s always going to be someone a phone call away.”
As for who is deemed fit and qualified for foster and adoptive care, Barham said there are many widespread myths, some of which may deter eligible prospective families from applying.
“Some people still (believe) that to be a foster parent, you have to be in a traditional, married family, (and) have one parent that stays at home,” she said. “That’s not the case. We do welcome single parents, same sex parents, and co-habitating couples.”
In reality, the requirements for fostering children include being 21 years of age or older, passing a background check, completing training classes, passing a cursory health screening, and having finances that meet the needs of the household.
Robin Cowan and her husband, Stewart, have been foster parents for six and a half years.
“We have one biological daughter,” Cowan said. “Once she got old enough, we thought it would be good (for her) to be around other children, and we wanted to make a difference in other kids’ lives.”
Cowan said her family has fostered around 15 children in total throughout the years. She said they often care for multiple children at once who come from the same home.
“Normally, we have sibling groups,” Cowan said. “We try to keep them together because family is so important.”
Along with fostering, the Cowans have also adopted one child. Abby has been with the family for five years total. After fostering Abby for three years, Cowan said they decided to adopt her.
“After three years of fostering, you kind of grow attached,” she said. “Going back to her parents was not an option, so (the adoption) just kind of happened.”
The Cowans are currently fostering five children from three different families.
“Every one of our children are unique,” Cowan said. “You really have to individualize things for each of them. Recognizing them as individuals is difficult sometimes, (and) blending families can be a challenge.”
Even with the difficulties, Cowan said she plans to continue to foster children.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. ” We’ve learned a lot through our children. It makes me a better person.”
Cowan also emphasized the importance of more prospective families stepping up and choosing to foster.
“Right now, there are so many kids out there with nowhere to go,” she said. “Anyone who even thinks about it (should) give it a try. There is no loser in the situation.”