Despite all of its challenges, says Merrin Packer, advocating for youngsters in tough domestic situations has some profound rewards.
These are youths who have little routine, who don’t get three meals a day or vitamins or doctor check-up, she says.
Being a foster parent is “hard work,” she says, but she also calls it a “privilege” and “humbling.”
“These kids are dealing with consequences [of] choices they didn’t make,” Packer.
“You get to see that start to change in their lives.”
The liaison between the Sequim School District and Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), Packer and other foster care representatives and support organizations look to answer questions — and add foster care families — at a pair of upcoming Foster Care Awareness Night sessions.
The first is set for 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14, at the Sequim High School auditorium, 533 N. Sequim Ave. A second session is set for 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Port Angeles High School auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave.
The on-stage panel, Packer says, will include two DCYF supervisors, Family Court Commissioner Brandon Mack, a representative from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and Packer herself, representing foster/adoptive parents.
The evening will feature a 25-minute documentary about fostering, a question-and-answer session and representatives from organizations who support foster care and other opportunities.
The need for more foster care families is critical, Packer said: Recently passed and adopted legislation states that if there is not an available foster home in a county when a child is requested to be brought into care, a judge may keep that child in the home from which they’re requesting to be removed.
The legislation, she says, has some logic: children have doctors and dentists and therapists, and state officials “don’t want to disrupt services.” It’s also more cost-effective.
But a child asking to be removed from a home likely has good reasons.
“That’s the caveat,” Packer says. “Is keeping them in a shelter any better? We’re choosing between a rock and a hard place.
“[Sometimes the] system seems to be against you, because it’s for reunification.”
That’s why Packer and local foster care advocates are looking to recruit about 15 more foster families in Clallam County, along with 50 foster homes to create a “supportive community” for those families.
There are a number of foster families on the North Olympic Peninsula, Packer says, but they are called on frequently as numbers have dwindled — a reality exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
Packer says a lot of people not comfortable getting involved in fostering in that time.
“Those [regular foster] families get called on again, again, again; they don’t have that time for self care,” she says.
More resources, including foster families to provide others respite care — even if it’s just once a month — are greatly needed and appreciated.
“The kiddos are absolutely worth it,” Packer says.
Packer and her husband were foster parenting a 14-year-old boy in Boise, Idaho, during the pandemic. The couple had him for 18 months.
The work was hard and exhausting, she says; the boy changed schools four times, but is now about to be adopted by another family.
The Packers adopted three infants and, though it’s extremely rare, are adopting all three. Most foster parents do not adopt the children they care for, she says. (See adoptuskids.org for more about adopting children.)
Steps toward fostering
Foster care for youths of all ages is needed, Packer says, while the age ranges for foster families is unlimited. That means retirees can foster as well.
“Any stable adult who can pass a background check [can foster],” Packer says.
The state system, she says, wants to set people up for success, so potential foster parents can pick what characteristics and levels of what Packer calls resiliency” they will accept into their home.
“They’ll work with you to find the best fit for your family,” she says.
Foster families aren’t alone in the process of supporting vulnerable children, Packer notes: Sequim and Port Angeles Boys & Girls Clubs have foster care support groups each month, while groups like Olympic Angels, a group whose mission is “to walk alongside children, youth, and families in the foster care community by offering consistent support through intentional giving, relationship building, and mentorship” (see olympicangels.org).
These “wrap-around” services, Packer says, means everyone involved gets support and the breaks they need to feel recharged.
Foster families do get some compensation for their service, she says, but this is not a “money-maker.” Once in the system, foster children are put on Medicaid and get referrals for doctors, dentists and counselors. The state will either provide transportation to these appointments, Packer says, or compensate the foster families.
The process to becoming a foster family, she notes, includes: an application; a background and health check; state standards training; interview with state officials; a home study, and finally a license. All told, she says, the process takes about six months.
The top trait for a foster parent, Packer says, is this: unconditional love.
The ability to remain calm in the face of chaos is a good trait too, she says, along with stability.
“I’m always amazed at what these little ones can go through and still have hope,” Packer says.
For more information, email Packer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foster Care Awareness Night
Information, resources for those interested in fostering
Sequim event: 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, at Sequim High School auditorium, 533 N. Sequim Ave.
Port Angeles event: 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Port Angeles High School auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave.
More info: Email Merrin Packer at email@example.com