Put your hand up if you have ever considered becoming a foster parent. Come on. I know you are out there.

Most applicants tell us that they thought about fostering for years before finally taking the plunge and giving us a call. And well they should. Fostering is a big commitment and should not be entered into lightly. But for those who do, it is the decision of a lifetime.

Fostering is not without its challenges and sacrifice. Most things worthwhile are. But our foster parents tell us that it is the most rewarding experience they have ever had. The opportunity to change a life, to help a child and family in need and to make a real difference has brought meaning and satisfaction to their lives that they never imagined.

Foster parenting, like parenting, is filled with the everyday challenges of late nights, temper tantrums, tons of laundry, moody teens and the general messiness of family life. Sometimes there are additional challenges. There may be physical or emotional special needs that require extra care and attention. There are formal expectations and standards to be met, and like regular parenting, the day will come when it is time to let go.

You see fostering is a temporary solution intended to give children a safe and stable home until more permanent arrangements can be made. As every effort is made to support families so that children can remain safely in the care of their parents, fewer than four per cent of children ever enter foster care. Many are reunited with their families, some move on to adoption or other forms of permanency. In the meantime, foster parents offer a safe haven in a time of need.

Despite the temporary nature of fostering, it is clear to me that the impression it leaves lasts a lifetime.

Not too long ago, a foster dad told me of the heartbreak of returning three youngsters to their mom just before Christmas. The kids had been with them since summer and had thrived. Fortunately, so had mom.

The agency and the courts felt she was ready and able to resume care of her children. Foster dad packed up the kids and their gifts in the van and returned them home to their mother, who embraced him and said, “Thank you for loving my children. This is the best Christmas gift I have ever had.”

Youth after youth continue to tell us that their foster parents helped make them who they are today. Offering unconditional love, providing unwavering guidance and support; they have helped kids to believe in themselves and to follow their dreams. There are biological parents who have formed lasting relationships with the foster parents who were there for them and their children when they needed them most.

With more than 500 children in foster care in Niagara and only 140 approved foster homes available to care for them – now is the time when we need you most. There are so many good people in Niagara with the ability and inclination to do good and to help out kids and families in our community. Now is the time to pick up the phone and call us to find out more.

We need foster parents from all walks of life, all cultures, religions and orientations. Single people, couples, young families, empty nesters, stay-at-home parents or those working outside of the home – are all encouraged to apply.

Foster parents are ordinary people who have made an extraordinary commitment to care for kids and to help make their community a better place. They are part of a caring and vibrant community of like-minded people all working towards the best interests and children and families in Niagara. And they have chosen to enrich their lives in the most amazing way.

Call today to find out more about what supports are available, including training and orientation, ongoing support and financial reimbursement. Find out what kind of fostering works for you: short term, long term, infants or teens. The decision to foster is life changing; for you, your family and the children you care for. It can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Tell you what… Start small. Foster a baby.

Ann Godfrey is the Director of Communications and Fundraising with Family and Children’s Services Niagara. The need for foster parents in Niagara has never been greater. Please call 905-937-7731, visit facsniagara.on.ca or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Source: St. Catharines Standard