Don’t expect immediate gratification.
That could be the first thing foster parents should know, but it would be immediately followed by how rewarding it is to help raise needy local children and teenagers who number in the thousands.
Earlier this week, Philadelphia Family Pride hosted its 10th information session for potential LGBT-affirming foster parents at the Lovett Memorial Library in Mount Airy. A few dozen people attended.
“We want LGBTQ-plus adults to know that they can become foster parents, to help them demystify the system and the process, and to know what to look for in a foster agency,” Stephanie Haynes, the group’s executive director, said. “PFP is here to support prospective and current LGBTQ-plus foster parents as well as LGBTQ-plus youth in the system who are in need of affirming homes.”
Haynes said PFP has been holding the sessions for about a year and a half, and is already seeing results: There have been several success stories for LGBTQ youth who may otherwise have had no place to go.
“There are particular needs for LGBT-affirming homes and homes that would welcome teenagers,” said Beth Vogel, of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.
The department says, “The goal of foster care is to reunite children with their families,” but that’s not always possible due to situations involving parents. Also, some foster teens age out of the system and others may be adopted.
Nefertari Sloan, a nonbinary African American who was once a foster youth, said reunification also doesn’t occur if a youth doesn’t want it. Now an LGBT sex and personal professional development specialist, Sloan added, “For LGBT youth, maybe reunification with their biological family is not what they want.”
Sloan said these days, youth can now identify as LGBT, but it was different when they were in the foster-care system. Sloan was not out.
There are 5,664-youth in dependent placements with Philadelphia DHS. That number includes foster-care and residential (group/institutional) settings. Of this number, approximately 2,360 are ages 11-up.
“We believe that kids do better in a family-based setting, but there are about 500 youth right now in group homes — many of whom would thrive in a foster home,” said DHS’ Heather Keafer. “We need more of our community to step up and foster teens.”
Recruitment events targeting LGBTQ community members with loving homes bring out veterans who have had successful experiences with children of all ages.
Tony Morse had been residential director for The Bridge, a behavioral-health facility, so he had a head start in knowing what it takes. Over the years, he has been a foster father to 14 boys, including a group of five brothers.
“You will have a lot of people coming through your home,” Morse cautioned about the life of a foster parent. There’s a case manager for each child, but he said they’re flexible and don’t want to disrupt the home.
“Don’t be intimidated by that or the paperwork,” he said. “They’re not your kids. This is a job.”
Morse, an African American man, said he has found it especially rewarding to teach teenage boys how to be responsible adults. When possible, he tries “the village concept” in which children are able to be in touch with their parents, who can even show up for birthday parties.
He suggested discipline throughout the home be the same, even for foster parents with their own biological children as part of the mix. Foster parents don’t know everything about a child’s history and what can trigger trouble for them, so a little caution with understanding is necessary.
His bottom line: “Love them at their pace.”
Jeff Chirico, a reporter for 6ABC Action News, ended up adopting his foster son. But, he confessed, “Every day, I screw up,” and he tells himself, “If I could do that over again...”
However, he said he recognizes, “There’s no perfect parent.”
Chirico was working in Atlanta when he and his now-husband, Danny, decided to foster 12-year-old R.J. The pair actually found R.J. in Ohio and brought him to Atlanta, and adopted him after six months. Then came the career opportunity to return home to Philadelphia, where Chirico grew up. He admitted it’s a lot easier having family around, which is allowed after adoption.
R.J., now 18, is set to graduate high school in a few months.
Representatives from provider agencies sat at tables on both sides of the library’s community room. They’re the people who license foster parents, and Philadelphia has about 25 agencies.
Philadelphia Family Pride is a volunteer-run organization that helps LGBTQ+ parents, prospective parents and children of all ages in the greater Philadelphia region. Its diverse membership includes families created through adoption, surrogacy, donor insemination, as well as fostering.
If you’re interested in making an informed decision about fostering a young person and missed this event, the next one will be held 6-8 p.m. April 18 at William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.