May is National Foster Care Month and serves as a crucial time to educate and encourage Community members about the important role foster care parents play within the Community.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Foster Care Program Coordinator Avarae John, said part of her job is to get information out to Community members and to Native families in the surrounding areas: Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler regarding the need for more licensed, qualified homes for Native American foster children.
As the number of children in the tribal foster care system grows, there is an increased need for placement of those children in out-of-home care.
“We do not have enough foster homes in Salt River, so we contract through the state for foster placement so there is not a shortage,” John said. But having more foster homes on the Community would be better because it’s important for the children to stay connected to their community. “It’s vital that they stay connected to their school, culture, friends and activities,” John said. She added that stateside foster parents are really good about bringing the kids back to the Community for activities and cultural events.
Although the goal of the SRPMIC Social Services Department and the Foster Care Program is to reunite the family eventually, “while that process is taking place, minors need a safe, secure and nurturing home in which to reside until reunification with their family can occur. That is where tribally licensed foster homes come into play,” John said.
Requirements for Foster Parent Applicants
Those interested in becoming a foster parent to a Native child must meet basic eligibility requirements (see sidebar).
“The biggest thing is you have to have a heart to be a foster parent, because a lot of our kids have gone through trauma,” John said. Patience is also a plus, she added. When children are removed from their natural environment and placed in an unnatural environment, it takes time to begin a bonding process. Foster children need time to adjust and feel safe in their new surroundings.
Both the home itself and those living in it are evaluated as part of the application process. In addition to the paperwork application, a home study site visit is conducted, which takes about two hours. During the visit, the Foster Care Program staff member meets the applicants and gets to know them, as well as other residents of the home. A background check is conducted on everyone over age 18 who is living in the home; this is necessary for the foster home to become licensed.
The home study also involves a report on the home’s appropriateness for children and its overall safety. John explained, “The home study is important because it gives the worker the opportunity to observe the family, address any safety concerns in the home, and make sure adequate space has been reserved for the foster child.” If there are any concerns, they are discussed and the applicants are given an appropriate time to make necessary repairs or adjustments.
Foster Parent Training
After the other required documents are submitted, the applicants must undergo 30 hours of foster care training. The curriculum used by the SRPMIC Foster Care Program was developed by tribes in North Dakota and is designed specifically for Native American foster homes.
“The curriculum we use is geared toward Native American historical trauma, holistic well-being, child development, child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. This training gives Native American foster parents a foundation to care for foster children,” said John. Applicants work through the curriculum at their own pace.
After training is complete and all other requirements are met, the applicants receive a certificate and are approved for a one-year foster care license. John will meet with them monthly for ongoing foster care training to address concerns and issues, recognize progress being made, and help them achieve recertification.
John said it typically takes about three months to get approved to become a foster parent. “The paperwork and everything is a long process in the beginning, but it is worth it,” she said.
Financial Support and Assistance
In order to help families supplement the financial aspect of becoming foster parents, there is a monetary stipend that is paid monthly for the care of the foster child, based on the age of the child and the number of days the child is in the home. The parents also receive a clothing allowance every six months.
“They are giving their time and home and restructuring their family to make room for one of our kids. It is important for us to give them as much support as we can,” John said. “If there are special needs for a particular child, we will evaluate the expense and determine if it is appropriate for Social Services to help pay for that.” Social Services Division also will apply for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) medical insurance for the foster children and daycare services through the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
John said if someone is considering becoming a foster parent, one of the most important things is to talk to your spouse and family. She said it is an emotional, long-term financial and family commitment, and the Foster Care Program works diligently to ensure a successful match between foster family and foster child.
“Every child wants to be loved, wants a family and needs a responsible adult. That is what they are looking for as foster kids,” John said.
For more information about the Salt River Foster Care Program, please call Social Services at (480) 362-5645.
Am I Eligible to Be a Foster Parent?
Persons interested in opening their homes to Native American foster children through the SRPMIC Foster Care Program must meet the following requirements:
• Over 21 years of age
• Proven enrollment in a tribal nation
• Living within the Community or in surrounding areas: Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler
• Household members in good mental and physical health
• Safe and adequate space for a child
• Willing and able to respect, love, nurture and protect a child
May Is Foster Care Month
The SRPMIC Foster Care Program will be celebrating Foster Care Month in May, and would like to extend its great appreciation and deep gratitude to its current foster parents, who are committed to the health and well-being of the children and the Community. The Foster Care Program will be providing information at the ballpark on May 5 during the per-capita payout, so come out and show your support.
For more information about the Salt River Foster Care Program, please call the Social Services main number at (480) 362-5645.