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You Could Change a Child’s Life – Be a Hero!

By June Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

The Foster Care Program at Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is a service that continually makes the effort to education and recruit families in the Community of the possibilities a foster parent can make in a child’s life. There are many ways to help community children in need, such as becoming a licensed foster parent, or offering short-term support by becoming licensed for emergency placement or as a respite (‘relief”) care family to give a foster family a short time to take care of personal emergencies, or for other situations that may be needed. One thing for sure, foster families are needed.

There is an assortment of reasons why a child is placed in foster care, or may need to live with relatives and not their biological parents. You may have or know of someone who has or is experience a situation such as temporary or permanent placement of a child in foster care.

Regardless of the reasons, it is clear a child needs the support and care of adults to be safe, and to grow as a healthy child. The SRPMIC social services department is mindful of this need and offers numerous programs to support and address family situations, such as the foster care program.

Avarae John, the foster care coordinator since 2008 shares “When I [started], there was a program at SRPMIC; however, we did not have foster parents from the Community. We placed children with relatives, outside of Community in [off-reservation] foster care, or in our Community group home. At the time, these were the three avenues available to tribal members.”

John adds, “[Today,] the Foster Care Program conducts [foster care] training and is able to license community members to be foster parents. This service is only for SRPMIC tribal members and Native Americans who are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. I do get a lot of inquiries from non-tribal members, and I refer them to outside agencies in the valley who can help them.”

Many tribal communities across the country are aware of and put resources into ensuring their tribe and other organizations are adhering to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which is a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families. The law was passed in 1978 by Congress to address an outcry from tribal communities of the high number of Native American children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies.

Public documents show the intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). The SRPMIC foster care program has been able to help with some of the state mandated foster places to have children of tribal members placed with Native American families.

At SRPMIC, the foster care program has made and continues to make positive strides. John states, “At one time we had four to five foster homes available to us, mostly for emergency placement. We currently have four foster homes licensed within the Community and six within the Phoenix area, and we have two new families going through the process to be licensed.” A goal of the program is to have foster care be a temporary arrangement, with the intent of working toward family unification; however the welfare and well-being of the child is most important.

“[In some incidences], foster parents have chosen to adopt the foster child that was placed with them and achieve permanency.” John stated further, “I usually ask parents who are considering to be a foster parent, ‘are you coming into the program to adopt permanently, to foster-adopt?’ If so, then I will locate children [that will make a good fit].” Foster parents may leave the program when they permanently adopt a child, so foster families are always being recruited.
Foster families will always be needed and they do fill an important role in a childs life. John shared, “Many potential foster parents have busy lives, have life situations that they are currently dealing with, so they are not ready to foster a child, … when I do get interested families that want to help and are willing to get licensed, I let them know there are other ways to help, like foster care respite.”

Being a foster parent is like being a volunteer – you must be willing to give of yourself and your family. The SRPMIC foster program looks for the best fit, for both the child and family so they both get the best experience possible.

The SRPMIC Foster Care program is always looking for Native American families and/or Individuals who would like to be trained and licensed to be foster parents. For more information, please contact Avarae John, Foster Care coordinator, in the SRPMIC Social Services department at (480) 362-5645.

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