Children and youth enter care for any number of reasons, including neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family illness and even death of a parent.
While there are hundreds of foster parents committed to helping, there is a great need for more families to help these children.
Over the past ten years, Leo and Karen Cooper have welcomed six foster children into their home.
“I believe there are so many youth in our community that have so much untapped potential, and they just need a guiding voice, a role model and a safe and secure place” says Leo.
Karen explains that she and Leo have welcomed children that have had additional challenges.
“They have ADHD, or Tourette’s, or they have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and those kind of things have a stigma attached to them, and so expectations from other people are different than what they can provide,” she said.
“They are able and capable, and people don’t [always] see them that way, and that’s tough as a foster parent.”
The Coopers say the rewards of fostering are huge.
“To see the changes that they’ve made,” says Leo, “From when they come into our home [to] when they transition to adulthood… it’s the small things…”
“It’s an award they may have got… to see a smile on their face some days… that is rewarding enough.”
“We gain the trust of somebody that didn’t trust anybody in their lifetime,” adds Karen.
“Any phone calls from any of our kids, and having that relationship long-term… to know that they trusted us to be a part of their journey, and they allowed us to continue to be a part of their journey, is a big deal,” Karen says.
Karen thinks hard when asked what is one of the greatest challenges of being a foster parent.
“I think as a foster parent, it’s always hard to see things not go as well as the kids expect it to go,” she says in response.
“It’s very challenging to see them out in the community and not be accepted as who they want to be.”
But she adds with a huge smile that “The best part is seeing how well they do. It’s surpassing all those stigmas. It’s surpassing everything that they had expected for themselves.”
Right now there are more than 1,000 foster children across Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Randy Whalen, from the Ministry of Children and Family Development says “We’re always looking for foster parents, particularly ones that have an interest in fostering teenagers.”
“Things that we’re looking for? They may have a nursing background or a medical background. Somebody that may have a mental health background, particularly when we’re dealing with teens is a great benefit as well.”
“We always want people to come with a love and understanding of what fostering is about, and people who have an interest in caring for children.” he added.
“One of the most satisfying, rewarding things that people can do in our society” adds Whalen, “Is to help families and children ? because it’s not just about the children but the families we’re working with as well.”
Leo Cooper agrees.
“To see those youth, the change that they make from when they come into our home and when they transition to adulthood…” adds Leo.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s being their best, and me being a part of that,” said Karen adding to Leo’s statement.
Karen also wants those considering fostering to know that it doesn’t have to be an “all-in” commitment and that relief parents are needed.
“We have such a lack of foster parents, not only foster parents but relief caregivers. Involve your family, involve your friends, your neighbours, and your teachers.”
“Be a part of that person’s circle, because they will forever treasure that relationship” says Karen.
Foster Parent Support Services Society holds information sessions across the Island and the Gulf Islands for those considering fostering.