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At Every Child, Inc., Foster Parents Transform Children’s Lives
By Nancy Kennedy

Every Child, Inc.Imagine how it feels to be a child without a family or a home. Imagine feeling unwanted, abandoned and alone, of worrying about where you are going to live and feeling afraid of the future. Imagine the vulnerability of feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. In Pennsylvania, many children have never known the sanctuary of belonging to a loving family. They are children in the foster care system, placed there for a multitude of reasons, none of their own making. These children need the loving, healing care and thoughtful attention that every child deserves.

Every Child Inc., a remarkable Pittsburgh-based human services agency, addresses this enormous need with a mission to help children find permanency: safe, stable, loving and lasting homes. A loving family is the foundation for physical and emotional health and for becoming successful adults, say the staff of Every Child. Permanency also means a long term commitment to a child, and if you are an adult with a desire to make a substantial and even transformative difference in the life of a child, you should consider becoming an Every Child foster parent.

Every day at Every Child, a team of committed and knowledgeable professionals strive to help vulnerable children who need families. They recruit, train and support foster parents and match them with children whose needs fit their strengths. Every Child was founded in 1997 and has evolved in the ensuing two decades, now offering a range of services that establish, develop and support relationships among children and birth, foster and adoptive families. Every Child provides children with loving homes in order to help them thrive. To achieve this, Every Child needs community involvement, and one of the most critical needs is for foster parents.

At Every Child, foster parents are working people, retired people, single people, married couples and same sex couples. They have one thing in common: a desire to help children, to give of themselves to change the life of a child. “There is no ideal foster parent,” says Emily Welte, Foster Care Program Coordinator. “We look for adults who are motivated, committed, flexible and willing to work with birth families.”

The process of becoming a foster parent begins with a telephone call to Kim Mohler, Matching and Recruitment Specialist. This is followed by attendance at a series of informational meetings which cover the basics of foster parenting. After that, prospective foster parents attend eight training sessions and undergo three home visits and personal interviews.

The process of matching a child with a family is completed with great care, says Welte. “This process can be frightening for the child, and we ease them slowly into the foster family. We start with short “practice” visits, like going out for ice cream, then gradually lengthen the visits; eventually we arrange an overnight stay, and then a weekend.”

“We encourage families to give us pictures of themselves, their pets, and their home to show the child,” explains Palma Bennie, Director of Child and Family Services. “This gives the child some idea of what to expect.”

Some children have special behavioral or medical needs; some have been traumatized. “We consider what the foster parent is willing to do, and what is best for the child,” Welte says. “A foster parent does not need medical credentials to care for a child with medical needs.”

Bennie says that older children and teens also need foster parents. “A child is never too old to be adopted,” she says. “Even an 18 year old needs a parent and a home, and an emotional connection to a family.”

Foster care is not necessarily forever, although the positive impact is lasting. Children in foster care are reunited with birth families in 60% of cases, explains Bennie, while the remaining 40% go on to be adopted. It is in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with the birth family, and often, foster families become mentors to birth families.

Foster parents receive strong support, says Bennie. “We provide many services and resources, and for those who are uncertain about foster parenting, this is reassuring. Anyone with an open heart who is willing to support a child should consider becoming a foster parent; the rewards are tremendous.”

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, or about other ways to help a child in foster care, visit www.everychildinc.org or call Kim Mohler at (412) 665-0600.

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