Stability, love – foundation of foster families
December 2, 2003
Although insiders say South Lake Tahoe has an alarming shortage of foster care homes, there appears to be no lack of love.
At an Upper Truckee Road residence, Christmas decorations are up and the blended family led by foster parents Loren and Rhonda Roth are down to earth about the mix of personalities and the comings and goings of teenagers.
The Roths have six children – half of whom are in foster care. For confidentiality reasons, the Tahoe Daily Tribune will refer to them fictitiously. Kelli, 14, was placed with the Roths two weeks ago, Haley Rose, 15, two months ago and Alanna, 17, two years ago.
The other half of their brood is biological – two living outside the home. The youngest, Cameron, flashes a big, toothy grin, as he admits to enjoying having three older sisters.
“She’s like my sister,” he said about Alanna. The 11-year-old boy sat on her in a piggyback position as she laid on her stomach sprawled out on the floor.
The four children and parents have become increasingly close – especially during the holidays.
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Alanna said being a member of a family makes the holidays more joyous – despite the firing line of questions friends and fellow students at South Tahoe High School may ask about her living arrangement.
“They ask: ‘How come you don’t live with your parents?'” she said. “They put the whole foster home in the group-home category.”
There are common misconceptions to foster care, Rhonda Roth pointed out.
“Even a friend of mine was judgmental of the care. But unless somebody does something stupid, as teenagers do, it’s pretty boring around here,” she said. “I just try to be honest with them.”
The foster care parent equates her blended family with many others.
“So many families have two families now with stepchildren anyway,” she said.
When she takes in a child, she allows a few days for them to get settled, which means getting in touch with their emotions – whether they’re anger- or sadness-based.
From there, she has a heart-to-heart discussion about their past living arrangements and new standards. Rules and expectations are established. They must be working in the Roth household. The house was spotless Monday night, the result of each child’s commitment to a half-hour of chores.
Roth has been taking in foster children for a decade at the urging of Earline Miller of Foster Family Service, a South Lake Tahoe private, nonprofit agency who recommended the Roth household.
“She told me I’d make a good foster parent,” Roth said.
It took some time for the Roths to get the gumption to take part in the service. Rhonda Roth initially shied away from taking in teenagers because of the simple rebelliousness associated with the age group. But she’s since changed her mind.
The parent has even extended her home again to those children eventually placed with relatives – which is commonplace. Many leave the home of their biological parents because of circumstances that are deemed unfit. Often changes – as in substance abuse recovery – occur. But sometimes, the situation never improves.
Haley Rose is due for a hearing in two weeks. She’s expected to return to her biological parents.
The children and parents allow the space and maturity to let go, but leaving can be difficult.
“It’s hard to think of going home. I’ve gotten attached,” the teenager said. “When I came here, I was a whole different person.”
Haley Rose described herself as a party girl when she arrived.
“Now I feel like I have a future,” she said, adding she’d like to visit on occasion.
The courts prefer to place children with a biological relative, but even that process has changed in the last year. A law has created a stricter criteria for relatives to take in children, one of a handful of reasons a fewer number of South Lake Tahoe homes take in children.
The other reasons are familiar here. More people are moving outside the area. Plus, adults who are willing to give up their home to care for another have found themselves taking in aging parents, said Janet Carter, who runs Koinonia – the other South Shore foster care agency.
“It’s very disheartening to be out of beds,” she said.
Foster Family Service social worker Lucy DuPertuis agrees.
“The trend is we’re struggling. The people who generally do foster care can’t afford to live here,” she said.
DuPertuis noted a lengthy list of criteria a household must meet such as being self-supporting. Family Foster Service provides a stipend of about $700 per month, per child. In the grand scheme of things, the amount is minimal.
The home must also accommodate only two children to a room, with the parent carrying renter’s or homeowner’s insurance. In addition, they are forced to pass a clearance check and first aid training.
El Dorado County social workers count 70 foster care children from South Lake Tahoe in need. But the homes available have been cut in half compared to five years ago. Between them, the two agencies have less than 20 homes to work with.
Patty Moley, who works for child support services, said she can’t explain the spike in why so many children need placement. The concern is if they can’t be placed in the area, the children are removed from their schools and forced to leave their friends to be sent to a home far away.
“Every child has the right to a safe and stable home. It’s a very basic thing kids need that’s more important than any gift (under the Christmas tree),” CASA supervisor Wendy David said.
-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org