Foster care today looks a lot different than what it used to look like many years ago. Foster homes today are not necessarily the typical residence facilities that house many children of different ages and backgrounds. Although there are many youth residence facilities providing foster care services that fit the traditional perception, foster care has evolved into a more refined process. In OnondagaCounty, foster care is a high-capacity industry, with many children looking for homes. However, in this new era of foster care, the county is actively seeking new methods for placing youth.
In OnondagaCounty, there is an overrepresentation of minority youth in foster care and not enough stable homes (or sites) to place all of them. Many misunderstand the point of foster care, which could partially be the reason for the shortage of sites to place youth. Foster care is completely different and unrelated to adoption which many people do not understand. The whole purpose of foster care is to provide a child (or children) with a temporary stable and safe living environment until their parent or guardian’s living situation is deemed suitable. In other words, the point of foster care is to ultimately reunify the child with their lawful caretaker. It is meant to help and support the parent/guardian in attaining stability and security in their social situation in order to properly care for their child.
What the county is aiming to achieve in the way they approach foster care, is to first alleviate the misconception that foster care means adoption and/or is perceived as a “back door” to easily adopting a child should they wish to do so. Although there are scenarios and specific situations where becoming a foster parent is done under the premise with the intent to adopt, which is not the primary goal or focus. Secondly, the county is aggressively seeking foster homes, parents, or sites within a child’s original community as well as with individuals who are minorities. The purpose of this initiative is to reduce the culture shock and discomfort a child faces when being relocated, aside from the discomfort they already face by being in foster care.
The county’s aggressive approach even consists of a steering committee made up of county employees and local nonprofit organizations whose sole focus is to seek out ways to identify and invite eligible minority individuals and/or couples who are willing to participate in foster care. There are many homes and families willing to accept foster children within the city of Syracuse and surrounding suburbs in the county yet few minority-led households. Of course, the county is not attempting to seek out minority families specifically but the research is being conducted as to why there is a disproportionality of minority-led homes unwilling to engage in, or unaware of their ability to partake in, foster care.
The county, aside from their own efforts, has also enrolled the support of foster care organizations that specialize in youth services and placement, such as BerkshireFarmCenter and Youth Services. Berkshire, located at 1045 James Street in Syracuse, has been in business for over 125 years and has offices spanning across the state. With a recent opening in Syracuse, the over a century-old organization is attempting to help facilitate the placement process of foster youth in the county as well as offer their wide array of family services that include crisis intervention, reunification, truancy, and counseling for families, groups, and individuals. More on BerkshireFarmCenter and Youth Services can be found at www.berkshirefarm.org or by calling 315-454-4700.
Many misconceptions float around foster care today but it is actually not as arduous a process to become a foster care site as most would believe. An individual, couple, or family with a stable income and safe living environment can become a foster care site by partaking in courses to become certified. The power of a young boy or girl of color, to be in a home of stable and responsible adults of color, is not only powerful and inspirational for the youth but for the parent who is struggling to find that balance of becoming stable and responsible themselves…and living in the same community. This new approach to foster care helps a child and a parent build a stronger family by being inspired by an already strong, responsible, and dependent family of color. This process is how families can help one another by caring for the youth of the community they live in and supporting neighboring families to become self-sufficient when it may seem difficult for them to do so. This is the ultimate sense of community building and OnondagaCounty and organizations like Berkshire Farm is leading the surge.