October is Foster Family Awareness Month and this year marks the 26th anniversary in British Columbia recognizing and celebrating foster families for their contributions and commitment to children, youth and families.
But here in Fort St. James, the need for Foster families remains a much needed service for area children and youth.
“It’s all about keeping these children as close to home as possible,” said Michelle Chase, executive director at Nezul Be Hunuyeh Child and Family Services Society in Fort St. James.
Because of a lack of foster care families in Fort St. James, children and youth are often relocated to other towns such as Vanderhoof, Burns Lake or even Prince George.
“When children are removed from all of their connections such as family, friends and school, it can be traumatic for them. Their lives are turned upside down,” Chase said.
“And visiting their families becomes more difficult also because of the distance.”
For various reasons, children and youth are in need of foster care.
Once their homes are considered unsafe, extended family options are considered and if this isn’t possible, fostering then occurs.
“For us here, it’s all about maintaining culture as well. This is so important,” Chase said.
“It’s vital to keep them close to their families whatever the situation may be. At the end of the day, your family is still your family and it’s important to keep these connections to both their culture and families.”
Recently, the Government of British Columbia has given authority to Delegates of Aboriginal Societies and Nezul Be Hunuyeh Child and Families Services is such one.
“We are now given authority to provide foster homes. The Ministry no longer provides care for these kids. That’s up to us,” Chase said.
Currently in Fort St. James, there are about 60 children and youth who are in need of foster care.
There are currently only five foster homes in Fort St. James.
Dawn Hanks works as a social worker at Nezul Be Hunuyeh Child and Family Services Society.
She is involved with recruiting safe homes for children/youth in need of foster care.
“A lot of people think that they have to be a perfect family to take this on,” Hanks said.
“It dosen’t matter if you are straight or gay, married or single, educated or not. It’s all about having a big heart, willingness and the ability to provide a safe and healthy home,” Chase added.
“We look at everyone, regardless.”
The ultimate goal for Chase and Hanks is to work with children’s families to see what issues they have and to see what they have done to address these issues before their children can return home.
Until then, fostering can be very emotional and traumatic for children and youth.
“As a foster family, it’s important to be open and honest about what you want,” Hanks said.
“Whether it’s a baby or a teenager, we will make sure you receive the right fit for whatever suits you best.”
All in all for Nezul Be Hunuyeh Child and Family Services Society, it’s about keeping kids safe and making sure they are as close to their home and culture as possible.
And for those considering fostering, don’t be deterred, according to Hanks.
“We are here to help whatever the barriers may be and you can always develop the skills required to deal with these kids.”
For Chase, it’s a personal passion that runs deep.
“We have to build trust in the community so the community can help with the wellness for our children. At the end of the day, these kids are all our kids.”
For more information about becoming a foster parent or to pick up an application, contact Dawn Hanks at: (250) 996-6806.