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Every Child Foster Parents Speak Out About the Rewards and Challenges
By Nancy Kennedy

At Every Child, Inc., the mission is to provide safe and loving homes for every child, and this is achieved in a remarkable number of different ways. One is the Child and Family Support Services Program, which includes a foster parent program. It is a highly regarded program and a busy one: the need has always been great, but the demand for foster families has accelerated with the opioid crisis in Western Pennsylvania. To meet this growing demand, Every Child is regularly engaged in foster parent recruitment, seeking to find adults who are willing and able to give an infant or child a safe, nurturing home. For those who might be considering taking this step, there is no better resource than veteran foster parents who willingly share the wisdom and the reality of their experiences.

Liza, 54, lives in Hopewell Township on a farm that is home to horses, pigs, and chickens, plus a huge family that currently numbers 15. Liza and her husband Bill have been foster parents with Every Child for 16 years and have cared for over 80 children. They have three biological children and six adopted children; currently they are caring for a 15 year old foster child and her five month old baby, plus a four year old foster child. They also have three adopted children, ages 4, 6 and 8.

Liza says that for her, foster parenting is a calling. “Foster parenting is hard work but I felt led to do this. There are many kids living in unhealthy situations; a lot of the kids have behavioral and emotional needs. In many cases, we work with the biological family and have relationships with them, to help ease the transitions.”

For her, the reward is in the giving and in witnessing the changes as the children become more comfortable. “Once the kids are reunited with the family, we never see many of them again, but we know that we gave them all that we could.” Liza says that foster parenting is not for everyone, and if you care about children but don’t feel you can do it, you can still make a difference: “If you can’t foster, then help a foster family. Foster parents need support. Give them a night out, make dinner or help out with homework. Just do it, don’t wait to be asked.”

Kerri is a single working woman who loves caring for young children and has been a foster parent with Every Child for two years. She finds the role so satisfying that she plans to continue fostering even if she has children of her own. She has been gaining experience with childcare since her college days. “I’m an aunt to three children, and I worked in childcare in high school and college. After graduating with a degree in social work, I worked in an adoption agency and I saw firsthand how great the need for foster homes was.”

Kerri has had a nine month old infant in her care since November; the baby has supervised visits with her birth mother and goes to day care while Kerri works. She offers this advice to prospective foster parents: “Be honest about what you can handle; you can always say no. You need time to yourself, too.” She encourages anyone interested in foster parenting to contact Every Child. “The staff at Every Child are simply amazing. They give me so much support and are on call 24 hours a day if I need them. But you should also make sure your family and friends are supportive of what you’re doing.”
George and Crystal are foster parenting veterans in their 80’s who have cared for 135 children over the course of 35 years. Crystal is a registered nurse, and so they have specialized in caring for children with special medical needs, mostly infants. The couple has four daughters and a son, who has special needs and lives at home. Both George and Crystal offer this advice to prospective foster parents: “Think it through carefully because it isn’t easy. You have to be prepared to deal with families that have social complications, and you have to keep in mind that the child will be leaving. Be prepared to say goodbye. But when a baby achieves a milestone or gives you a smile, it’s worth it. Foster parents help children reach their full potential.”

Holly Livingston, director of Child and Family Services at Every Child, says that foster parents are given comprehensive training and ongoing support. “We are fortunate to have many excellent foster parents but there is always a need for more. Call us to learn more about it.”

Foster parents for Every Child must be at least 21 years of age. Single people, empty-nesters, retired couples, same sex couples and others are welcome to apply. For more information, visit www.everychildinc.org or call 412 665-0600.

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