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Every Child is Seeking Foster Parents
By Nancy Kennedy

“One hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, what kind of house I lived in, or what sort of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Forest Witcraft, teacher and Boy Scout executive

Alexa CrippenCaring for children as a foster parent is not easy, but the rewards are enormous, and the potential for making a lifelong positive impact is beyond measure. At Every Child, Inc, a dynamic regional non-profit that serves children and families, foster parents are special people, but they are also perfectly ordinary people, who come from all walks of life. What they have in common is a willingness to make an extraordinary commitment of time, energy and self to give a child the sanctuary of a safe place to call home.

Every Child is driven by a mission to provide safe and loving homes for vulnerable children, and one of the most effective ways they achieve this is through their Child and Family Support Services, which includes a foster care program. Holly Livingston, director of Child and Family Services, says that the need for foster parents is great, particularly in Westmoreland County where the opioid epidemic is taking a toll on families. “We get calls every day for foster care placements, from all over Western Pennsylvania, and so recruitment of foster families is a constant process. We try to place children in homes that are as close as possible to their homes. Our goal is always reunification with the biological family.”

To become a foster parent for Every Child, one must be at least 21 years of age. Single people, empty-nesters, retired couples, same sex couples and others are welcome to apply. The process of becoming a foster parent begins with a face-to-face meeting with Alexa Crippen, foster care supervisor, to learn what foster parenting entails. “The need for foster parents is great but it is not something that can be undertaken lightly,” she says. “People come to us with big, open hearts, but they have to understand the reality of foster parenting. We frame it for them and dispel the myths so they know what they are getting into.”

Some of those myths are about motivation, Crippen says. “There’s a common belief that foster parents do it for the money. This is false – they do it for the love of kids. The money goes primarily to meeting the needs of the kids.” Another myth is that children in foster care have no ties to their biological families and are better off with foster parents, but in fact, the opposite is true; they visit with their families and their foster parents are trained to nurture that relationship. “Children want to be with their parents- they love them. Biological parents are not necessarily bad parents. The kids may be in foster care because of a parent’s illness or something that happened unexpectedly.”
The reality is that foster parenting is both very hard and very rewarding, Crippen says. “As a foster parent, you have to navigate a lot of systems, including Children and Youth Services, the school system, the legal system and healthcare system. All children have a lot of needs, but children in foster care often have many more needs and more complex needs.”

New foster parents are screened carefully, with background checks and a thorough home study. They receive 24 hours of comprehensive training and become certified as, essentially, Crippen says, “professional parents.” “The entire process takes about 90 days. They are well prepared, with all the tools they need.”

Every Child’s foster parents are embraced by a strong network of supports. “Foster parents are never alone,” Livingston says. “We are always accessible and supportive, 24/7, and if they call they will get a human voice. We provide trainings and a support group; these things create community among the foster parents so they have peer support.”

For Holly Livingston and Alexa Crippen, working at Every Child is gratifying. “When we see a successful reunification, when we see a child making progress, growing and gaining self-esteem, we feel rewarded. We love being advocates for children and knowing we have a long lasting impact,” Livingston says. “Children belong in safe stable homes and we will do whatever it takes to achieve that. At Every Child we change lives for the better, and our extraordinary foster parents are an essential part of that.”

Originally created in 1997 to provide services to medically fragile children, Every Child has expanded in scope and mission to include Child and Family Support Services and a comprehensive Clinical Services program. In all of Every Child’s services, the goal is to develop, preserve and strengthen the relationships to family and community that are essential to a child’s growth and development. For more information, visit www.everychildinc.org or call 412 665-0600.

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