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11:13 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Foster homes offer a warm, safe place for needy children

PRESCOTT – When Child Protective Services (CPS) removes children from their homes because of abuse or neglect, they need a loving, warm place to go where they will feel safe. That's what foster parents offer when they open their homes to these children.

"CPS doesn't pull children from their home for light reasons," said Joe Walker, foster parent trainer and recruiter from Catholic Social Service. "It's for the children's safety. For foster parents, it's almost like a calling. They just care about children so much."

Yavapai County has 9,200 foster homes, Walker said, and "all the homes are pretty well stuffed. There's always a need for more homes."

Walker said it is usually easier to place young children in foster homes, so "there is a bigger need for homes for older kids. Some foster parents don't want children older than their own."

He added, "many people feel they can help younger children more, but I have seen miracles with teens because they crave a family so bad and it gives them a sense of belonging."

There are different types of foster homes, Walker said, including regular homes ("where children stay temporarily until they are returned to their parent"), therapeutic homes ("these are higher-needs children due to more severe abuse") and professional homes ("the children often come from residential treatment centers").

People who choose to foster children with higher needs often need extensive training and a lot of experience as a foster parent, Walker said. Children placed in "regular" homes do come from families of abuse and neglect, he added, but they are still just kids who crave love and attention.

"There are myths that foster kids have done something wrong," he said, "but they've just been hurt. We don't want to pretend these aren't children who have been hurt and need extra help. But a lot of times, they're just innocent, normal children trying to live."

Some foster children do "have behaviors you don't see in typical children," which makes it difficult at times to raise them.

"But as hard as it is for foster parents, it's even harder for the child because it's like being in a war, but nobody knows the war is going on," Walker said.

No matter what type of home a child is in, he said there are case managers from CPS to support the child and licensing workers from Catholic Social Service to support the parents.

Also, foster parents receive a certain amount of money to have foster children, depending on the type of home, but "foster parents have to be able to make it with their regular job."

Walker said foster parents often work with the child's biological parents because "they can help them to do well and deal with their children. (The birth parents) aren't monsters. They're just people with illness of addiction."

Walker said the initial intent after placing a child in a foster home is eventually reuniting them with their birth parents.

"We always try to get the child home, and if we can't get them home, we try to find permanency," he said.

About 50 percent or 60 percent of children placed in homes are able to go home, Walker said, and if they're not, CPS and Catholic Social Service try to place them with a relative.

Of the children who become adopted, he said relatives adopt about 64 percent of them. The most important thing is providing a normal, structured life for a child, Walker said.

"These children have been hurt by the people who are supposed to love them the most," he added. "They have the feeling of, 'Oh, my parents don't want me.' It's important to create a structure for the child. Most come from a home without a structure. You have to help children become children again."

When a person decides to become a foster parent, Walker said he/she must realize that "foster parents aren't there to fix children. They're there to raise them."

He added, "foster parents are the most selfless people I know. They just give because that's what they do."

For more information about becoming a foster parent, call Joe Walker at 778-2531, ext. 3413.