Opening Homes & Hearts

Opening Homes & Hearts

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Despite a global pandemic, the Newfoundland and Labrador Foster Families Association continues its commitment to providing a collective voice for foster parents

The worldwide pandemic presented challenges on a massive scale, yet the need for a full heart and warm, nurturing home knows not of global crisis or socio-political turmoil.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Foster Families Association has adapted to the rigours of the COVID-19 pandemic, standing firm in their 40-year-plus mandate to advance and promote the professional role of foster parents. 

NLFFA provides a collective voice for Foster Families in Newfoundland and Labrador, and promotes collaborative partnerships that strengthen policies, programs and services which enhance care and support provided to children and families in a manner that is sensitive to their cultural and individual needs.

“There’s been challenges all the way around,” shared Kelli Dawe, Executive Director of the NLFFA. 

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“We tend to be really active and actually go across the province, meet face-to-face with foster parents, do meetings, do presentations, try to get the word out there. And of course, that all had come to a grinding halt.”

Pivoting to virtual and online sessions, the NLFFA’s commitment to the support, advocacy, retention and recruitment to the system of fostering children across the province was only galvanized with the ever-looming pandemic.

Shared Responsibility

“It’s been quite a learning curve for everybody who’s been part of the system, from us to the foster parents to the department. It’s been challenging all the way around,” Dawe explained. 

“We’ve seen it right across the spectrum. COVID has just kind of thrown a wrench into all of that now. We’ve all gotten pretty resilient at learning to cope in different ways with it and get around it.”

Recognizing the shared responsibility the family unit and community share in ensuring the physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural health of a child, the NLFFA has established itself as the gold-standard in the province for helping to equip potential foster parents with the necessary tools to become caring and nurturing guardians.

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“It’s such a layered experience to be a foster parent. And I think when someone may have that initial interest or they see someone else who’s fostering, they may see it at a very surface level. I take this child into my home. I play the role of parent. We do fun things. I help them learn. I give them safety and love, and of course, that’s part of it. But it’s so much more complex beyond that,” Dawe shared.

“The majority of these children who come into care, they come with traumatic experiences, mental health issues, and it could be behavioral developmental issues or any host of issues. So right off the bat these children are coming with experiences that maybe a child who’s never been in care and never will be in care won’t have. So these foster parents have to navigate the challenges that these children may be coming with.

“We often say we want foster parents to take a child into the home, love them like they’re your own with the understanding that you will have to give that child back,” Dawe adds, impassioned.

“So in some ways, loving them like they’re your own, we want you to love them like they’re your own biological child. But of course, it’s much more complex than that because it’s meant to be temporary. 

“And there’s a whole host of things you will likely have to deal with that you might not have to deal with if it was your own biological child. So it’s very important for these foster parents to be given the skills and the knowledge that they need to be able to do this well, because if not, you can very well be setting them up for failure. They really need to be equipped to be prepared to handle the challenges.”

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‘Room in Your Heart’

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are renowned for their caring, good-natured and selfless personalities. Providing a home for a child in need fully falls into our genetic predisposition for helping and healing, and the NLFFA are more than ready to help bridge that gap between opening homes and opening hearts.

“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we’re known for taking care of each other. And you don’t necessarily have to be related by blood to be in a position to take care of someone or to help someone. And the need is still so great,” Dawe explained.

“There are still so many children who are in care, and there are still never enough foster homes to meet the need. And we want to see every child who comes into care have a family to go to, because we still see children who are ending up in group home arrangements, in places where there’s rotational staff because there’s just not enough foster homes and these children need that stability, they need the stability of a home with a parent, with a dedicated caregiver. So the capacity is there.

“Our province, we know there are still so many people out there. You don’t have to be a special person. People often think I’m not equipped, I’m not the right person for that job. But I think if people would just reach out, be educated, they could realize that you don’t have to be a superhero to be a foster parent. You just have to have, like we say, room in your home and room in your heart. And if you have that willingness, we can equip you with the skills and the knowledge that you need to do the job well.”

For more information on the Newfoundland and Labrador Foster Families Association visit fosterfamiliesnl.ca

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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