Every year in South Lake Tahoe, hundreds of children are removed from their homes and families due to abuse or neglect. In 2011, a staggering 222 children from the Tahoe area were removed from their parents. Today, we have only eight local families willing to take in and care for these children. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out what that means for those 222 children. Due to the disparity between the small number of foster homes and the large number of foster children, the majority of our local foster kids are being sent to homes in a different city. Most are placed in foster homes that are a two- to four-hour drive away.
Unless you've been through it, it is difficult to imagine the fear and grief you might feel as a foster child being taken from the only family you've ever known. The only way I can begin to imagine is by picturing how my own child would feel. What if a stranger had come into your home and told your child that he has to leave you, his mom or dad, and go live with another family that very moment. Your child is put in the back of a car and this stranger drives him to a house he's never seen before. He walks up to the front door and knocks, not having any idea what's on the other side of the door. Not knowing anything about this new family, not knowing if he will be safe or harmed or even welcomed. And even scarier, he has no idea if he will again see you, his parent, or what the future holds. And, to top it off, he is in an unfamiliar city and will be going to a new school the very next day. Can you imagine? I can't imagine going through such an experience as a well-adjusted adult, much less a vulnerable, mistreated, confused child whose trust in others has been shattered.
When foster children are able to remain in their own communities and attend their own school, the comfort of the familiar surroundings lessens the impact of such a traumatic experience. The positive impact this can have on a child's growth and development is invaluable. In fact, when a child is placed in a familiar environment and a loving foster family, the turnaround that child makes in regards to grades, self-esteem, and mental health is astounding. When placed in a caring family with stability and boundaries, negative behaviors often lessen within a matter of weeks and may completely disappear in a matter of months.
This April, Foster Family Service and Foster and Kinship Care Education are offering a training series in Tahoe for people interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents. To be a foster parent you can be married or single, young or old, starting your family or an empty nester. You can be available for weekends or for long-term placements, choose to take a baby or a teenager. You can be open to adoption or not. But one thing's for sure, you will be opening your home to the most vulnerable of all populations, yet the one most full of potential: the foster child. Call 530-544-2111 to sign up for the upcoming April trainings.
- Leila Rosner is an instructional specialist for Foster Family Service and Kinship Care Education Program.