By Kaitlyn Naples
About every month, Wheeler Clinic holds informational sessions about the foster care programs it offers, letting the community learn more about how they can help children in need, in their very own communities. Wheeler Clinic, based in Plainville, currently has 55 children in its therapeutic foster care program, with about 60 foster care families participating.
“Our reputation as a foster care provider has grown over the last few years,” Sharon Pendleton-Ponzani, associate director of Wheeler’s Foster Care Program, said, adding that Wheeler has been active in its marketing strategies to gain more exposure on all of the services it offers, including foster care.
Wheeler Clinic has been a foster care provider for over 20 years, and is always trying to get more families and individuals to take part in its program.
“We are in desperate need of foster care families,” or individuals, Pendleton-Ponzani said.
There are four different programs under Wheeler’s foster care program umbrella.
Therapeutic Foster Care is for children ages 6- to 17-years-old with mental health needs. The newest program is the Family and Community Ties Foster Care Program, for children ages 6- to 17-years-old who are coming from residential settings with “complex behavioral health needs.” Another program is the Medically Complex Foster Care, which is for children from birth to 18-years-old, who have medical conditions, from conditions like asthma and diabetes, to heart programs and others. The fourth program is the Respite Foster Care program, which is for individuals and families who take care of a foster care child temporarily for another foster care parent.
All of these programs come with support from Wheeler staff, as well as training. When potential foster care parents are interested in joining the program at Wheeler Clinic, they are interviewed, approved and trained. Foster care parents are matched with a based on levels of needs and what the parents are looking for.
At the informational sessions, anyone interested in learning more about what the foster care program is all about is welcome. These sessions are meant for people to ask questions about the programs, and learn what their options are, meet with a recruiter, learn about the population in the program and look at different avenues that work best for everyone involved.
Pendleton-Ponzani said Wheeler Clinic looks for potential foster care parents who are “open to being flexible, and who want to be part of a team.” She said Wheeler staff will always be involved with the children and the foster care families, and are always available for support.
“We have 24/ (hour) seven (day) coverage,” she said. “We are always here supporting our families.”
Backgrounds in parenting, medical or mental health, is not required to be a foster care parent. However, Wheeler Clinic welcomes those individuals who have backgrounds so they can be paired with children who have conditions.
“We just want people to know that these children are children, and they have had a different kind of experience growing up,” Pendleton-Ponzani said. “They just need to feel safe and secure. We want them to have some sense of normalcy.”
Ideally, Wheeler Clinic wants to keep children with the same foster care families from the time they enter the program until the time they are discharged. Pendleton-Ponzani added that the clinic also strives to keep the children in, or as close to, their original community so they feel at home. Wheeler Clinic Therapeutic Foster Care Program, based in Plainville, offers services to children in areas like Waterbury, Torrington and New Britain as well as Southington and Bristol.
Two years ago, Wheeler Clinic had 15 foster care parents adopt their children, and Pendleton-Ponzani said that adoption by foster care parents happens a lot.
“We want the public to know they can get more information here about these programs and help children in need, in their own communities, get into families,” she said, adding that on a recent statistic for the region Wheeler covers, there were 60 additional children needing to be placed in foster care. She said there aren’t enough foster care homes in the state to meet the needs, and there have been children who have been on the waiting list for two years.
“There are kids in your community who need a home,” she said.
The next informational session on foster care will be held on Saturday, March 16 from noon to 2 p.m., at 88 East St. in Plainville. The training is a no-obligation event.
For more information about Wheeler Clinic’s foster care program, call (860) 793-7277.