This Foster Care Month, we salute the more than 8,000 New York families who provide foster care. Of the approximately 18,500 children in foster care in the state, the majority are placed in foster boarding homes.
"Foster parents are the heart of the foster care system," said Laura Velez, Deputy Commissioner for Child Welfare and Community Services. "Their commitment and experience are invaluable in providing safety, permanency, and well-being for children in their care."
Research has shown foster parents need emotional and practical support to be successful in caring for children and youth. That support often comes in the form of peer groups and formal training, but a new program is engaging the community by recruiting, training, and facilitating volunteer "extended families" for foster parents.
Now in its second year, Fostering Futures NY (FFNY) trains and supports small teams of volunteers that are recruited from local service organizations and faith-based communities. The teams are matched with foster families referred by counties and voluntary agencies. Teams respond to foster parents' requests for assistance in areas such as:
- Minor household maintenance and repairs
- Meal preparation
- Homework help
Volunteers are screened, trained, and coached by Fostering Futures NY experienced professionals. All volunteers undergo comprehensive background checks, including state and federal criminal records, driving records, and the Statewide Central Register. The volunteers receive training in the basics of the child welfare system, confidentiality, and the reporting of abuse or maltreatment.
FFNY works with foster care agencies, community service groups, and foster families in Schenectady, Albany, and Rensselaer counties. It has five active teams and two in training, with a waiting list of foster families across the Capital Region. FFNY is a program of Welfare Research, Inc. (WRI) and receives financial support from OCFS, a federal grant from the Children's Bureau, private foundations and individuals.
"The experience has been wonderful for the 10-year-old child now in our home," says Renee, a foster parent who has been matched with an FFNY team for a year. "Team members are like aunts and uncles. They have taken him to the movies and to the ice cream shop. One team member taught him to ride a bike, and another introduced him to soccer."
"Last year we were approaching burnout and thought we would have to give up fostering," says Cindy. She and her husband have fostered more than 150 children in 22 years. "Now the FFNY team is there to call when I need help. We don't feel so isolated, and it's made all the difference."
"Last night, while one of our family's children put my hair into seven pony tails, I just found myself smiling," says one volunteer. "The project is a joy in itself, but what an added gift it is that there is also a benefit to a stressed child welfare system, foster parents, and our community."