By TAYLOR HARTZ
On Feb. 13, Wheeler Clinic will host an informational session for anyone interested in the opportunity to foster a child.
On a daily basis, Wheeler’s foster care programs service at least 60 local children in need of a foster home.
“We desperately need parents,” said Sharon Pendleton-Ponzani, LCSW, Director of Community Based Family Services at Wheeler Clinic.
The clinic offers 24-hour support to families and youth from across the state, providing behavioral and mental health services, and programs to help secure children in supportive foster homes.
The informational event is open to any adult Connecticut resident interested in becoming a foster parent—there are no restrictions regarding marital or employment status.
“There are a lot of kids who need placements,” said Pendleton-Ponanzi, who hopes local residents will realize the large need for foster homes in their community and consider opening their doors.
“These are children that their children are going to school with, or that they are seeing in the grocery store, or at church” said Pendleton-Ponanzi, “They are children who have had hard things happen to them, but who still need families who are committed to them who can provide them with a stable environment.”
The informational event is the first step in what is usually an eight-to-12 week process, and attending the session comes with no obligation to foster.
“It by no means commits them to becoming a foster parent,” said Pendleton-Ponanzi of the session, “It is really designed to give people a chance to learn all about kids in foster care.”
The clinic supports two foster programs that are funded by the Department of Children and Families – the Therapeutic Foster Care Program and the Family and Community Ties Program.
Each program evaluates the needs of each child, and provides different in-home and community support options to fit their individual cases.
The program aims to match children with suitable foster parents first, and then assess the needs of the family and the child to find the program that will match best.
The Family and Community Ties Program offers more intensive support to families, focused on in-home therapy.
This program often applies to children who have been in a group home for a longer period of time, or who are returning from a residential treatment facility.
The Therapeutic Care Program provides services to children with behavioral health needs that can be handled by providers in the community.
Both programs typically work with children ages 6-years-old to 18-years-old, and can provide placements that last anywhere from one-month to a few years.
Pendleton-Ponanzi said the length of the foster home stay depends on each child’s “permanency plans” — whether they are seeking a pre-adoption home, or are expected to return to their biological families.
After attending an informational session, potential foster parents can receive one-on-one training, or group sessions in the Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting (MAPP) Program, the program recently adopted as the state-wide standard for foster care training.
During this 10-week program, potential foster parents are given the chance to learn about the Wheeler programs, and about the families and children in need.
Through MAPP training, the staff at Wheeler can assess the needs of each child in comparison to foster parents’ needs or abilities, in order to match each parent with a child who will best fit their home and family.
Potential parents are also able to determine what gender, age, and individualized needs they will best care for.
“It’s meant to be a very mutual process,” said Pendleton-Ponanzi, who hopes residents will take an interest in the no-obligation opportunity to learn about helping local children.
“It’s really about providing for a need in the community,” said Pendleton-Ponanzi. “By being fostered locally, the children can still have a connection to their family or siblings, friends, and school, in a community they’re familiar with.”
The next informational session will be held on Saturday, Feb. 13, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at 88 East St. in Plainville.
Those interested in additional information about fostering opportunities in Western Connecticut can call (203)755-4963, or (860)793-7277 for opportunities in Central Connecticut.
Comments? Email THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.