By Jim Williams
I’ve seen lots of changes at the Center for Human Development over my 39 year career. Today, CHD delivers critical social and mental health services to over 18,000 people each year in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, but the program that started it all was foster care for children.
Fostering has been part of my personal and professional life since the 1970s. My wife and I raised our two biological children, and we also had two foster kids. Johnny, a victim of parental neglect, came to us when he was 12. Robbie was 7 and had endured horrible abuse, both physical and mental, that most people couldn’t imagine.
We were lucky to have these boys in our home. Even after they “aged out” of foster care and went on their own, they stayed close to us and each other. They were roommates for 17 years. These days, Johnny works for the Department of Developmental Services and Robbie lives in an adult living setting for seniors. They’re both wonderful men.
Kids who wind up in foster care often have been growing up in chaos, abuse or neglect. Many factors can play into their circumstances, notably poverty, drugs and alcohol. Often these kids don’t know what it’s like to feel safe at night. A foster family can change that.
At any given time, CHD has about 100 children in foster care. Some have been pulled from an unsafe home environment and just need a place to spend the night. Others are in long-term placements that can last several years. A few foster families care for kids with complicated medical needs that require 24-hour care and regular trips to children’s hospitals in Boston. These kids otherwise would be in pediatric nursing homes. CHD also provides foster care aimed at getting homeless teens off the streets.
In each of these care settings, and others that don’t fall neatly into categories, foster parents provide a stable environment where kids have as normal a home life as they can. Everyone has their daily routine, the kids go to school and after school activities and eat meals together – basically, anything that any caring family does a foster family can do.
Ivonne Reyes of Chicopee has been a foster mother for 11 years. She has two grown sons and two daughters in high school, and currently she cares for a seven-year-old boy and a girl who’s 13. “With all that is happening in the world, I try to give these kids a better life,” Ivonne says. “Most foster kids are going through so much, so I open my home to give them family structure.”
To anyone thinking about becoming a foster parent, Ivonne has some advice. “Really have the intention to help the kids,” she says. “They come with problems and need to be uplifted. You have to be mentally and physically ready to help them. You need to be patient with them and show them compassion and respect. Sometime it’s hard, but for me it’s a beautiful experience. Foster kids who come into my care, they become family to me.”
Anybody who cares, who can open their heart and their home to a child or teen in need, can be a foster parent. Foster homes come in all sizes, shapes, colors and languages. There is an involved background procedure, but we are happy to entertain all serious inquiries. If you’re even a little interested, I invite you to find out more. Please call CHD Foster Care at 413-781-6556 and ask to speak with a Home Finder.
After 39 years working with foster kids, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Jim Williams is a program director for the Center for Human Development.
Story originally appearred on MassLive on May 10, 2016: http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/05/fostering_hope_through_foster.html