Foster caregivers needed in South Okanagan

Information sessions scheduled for Thursday in Penticton and Summerland

Growing up in a good home with stability, support and love is like oxygen — you don’t really notice how important it is until it’s gone, and when it is gone, the damage can be serious.

The Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs are looking for caregivers in the South Okanagan to help heal and nurture youth who have suffered from the lack of a good home through their specialized foster care program.

The program, an initiative between the boys and girls clubs and the Ministry of Children and Family Development, was developed to tend to the needs of children who had gone through the basic foster care system, to no avail.

“Our belief within this program is that these are the last stops for these kids because the kids we bring into our program have been through the system for many years,” said Laurene Sloboda, the program’s co-ordinator. “A lot of them have burned out several foster homes. Our belief is that this is a long-term placement, and we want this to be the last stop for them.”

To this end, the program provides education and training to the parents to help them connect and deal with their youth, a support team available 24 hours a day to offer help during any crises within the foster homes and youth workers who are meeting with the child several times a week.

The program relies on a philosophy Sloboda called the circle of courage. The idea, said Sloboda, is to strengthen four key pillars to the youth’s development: generosity; independence; mastery; and belonging. This structured, developmentally based approach is different to other foster-care programs — not only in terms of its guiding philosophy, but the available support as well.

“We could phone at midnight, at 1 in the morning, at 12 in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter when you called, you always got a response and you always got help,” said Debra Gilmore, one of the program’s caregivers. “Through other ministry things, there was no team. You got your little cheque and you got your little client and they just said, ‘Thanks, here you go.’”

The support, said Sloboda, isn’t only a nice bonus; it’s a necessity when dealing with those in the program, most of whom are high-risk, come with a special set of needs and have experienced some form of trauma. Even with the support, it can be a challenging experience — one not for everyone.

“We’ve had a lot of people that have kind of started the process and then realized the commitment level and decided not to pursue it,” said Sloboda.

Regardless of the challenge, those who are caregivers with the program say it is an amazing experience.

“It is very rewarding to see a young person strive to make the best of a life where they are dealt a bad hand,” said Melanie Boyko, another caregiver with the program. “You choose to do that, and they have the support to do that, to turn a life around. I can’t describe that actually, I can’t put that into one word.”

“The biggest thing they need is love and understanding, and any individual who is sure they can provide that unconditionally for the youth, yeah, go for it,” said Gilmore. “It’s rewarding, it really is. You have days where you want to pull your hair out, and you have days where the world couldn’t get any brighter.”

Organizers are looking to add two more full-time caregiver homes to the program. Those interested in becoming a foster parent can attend information sessions on Thursday at Summerland’s United Church lounge at 13204 Henry Ave. from 2 to 4 p.m., or in Penticton at the Okaganan Boys and Girls Club office training room at 1295 Manitoba St. from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, call Laurene at 250-493-0512, extension 116.