Parents find foster support group rewarding
By Cindy Mullet
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
A meeting for coffee and conversation between two foster parents turned into the formation of a foster parent support group which meets at the Glendive Alliance Church from 6 to 8 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month.
Cindy Larsen and Daneen Peterson both attend the Alliance Church and both have cared for foster children. They decided to go for coffee to compare notes. That meeting led to weekly get-togethers, and the support they received from each other prompted them to start the monthly meetings, Peterson said.
Larsen and Peterson followed different paths along the way to becoming foster parents but share a commitment to caring for children who need a safe home.
Larsen said she and her family moved to Glendive five and a half years ago. She went to work for the Dept. of Child and Family Services and lasted 10 months. It was the hardest job she ever had. While she knew she needed a job that worked better for her, she also knew she wanted to stay involved with the program so signed on to provide respite and emergency service for foster children.
She and her husband had one child in high school at the time and were anticipating becoming empty-nesters but one of the foster children who came to them fit in well with their family. As they worked with her, they realized she needed an adoptive family so started that process and in May 2017 added her to their family.
“We became adoptive parents without looking to be,” she said. “We knew it was the right thing.”
Peterson and her husband had worked with orphans in Kenya, and when they moved to Glendive they knew they wanted to be involved with foster care. It seemed a natural fit, she said.
They went through training a year and a half ago and received their first placement in October 2016. Over a period of 12 months they had nine children in their home, a set of four siblings, a set of three siblings, a newborn and a teenager, she said.
Foster parents can choose what ages of children they will take, but she and her husband wanted to be open to any who needed a home, she added.
Both Larsen and Peterson quickly realized that they could never be completely prepared for the children who came to them. Since their children were already out of the home or in high school, the closest things they had to baby stuff were dog toys. They needed help, Larsen said.
Bringing other foster parents together not only gives them the support of people who understand where they are but also helps them discover different resources that are available.
“It’s bringing the village together,” Peterson said.
The monthly meetings are not limited to foster parents but are open to adoptive parents or people providing kinship support. They provide child care and a meal along with a training session that counts as licensing renewal credits for foster parents, she said.
The training comes through Child Bridge, an organization out of Bigfork, which provides videos of trainings given to groups who meet in the western part of the state. Trainings deal with subjects such as trauma, drugs, adverse childhood experiences and food issues. They are phenomenal, Larsen said.
Often foster parents treat the behavior without recognizing what triggers the behavior, Peterson noted.
Foster parents may tell children to go to their rooms to calm down without giving them the tools they need to do that. “They don’t know how to calm down. They can’t self-regulate. We need to teach them that skill,” Larsen added.
Before starting the local group, Larsen and Peterson contacted the local CFS office to explain their plans and explore how they could work together. The department gave them an overwhelming “Yes” and agreed to send out letters to local foster parents to make them aware of the meetings, she said.
Around 20 people showed up for the first meeting. Over time, those numbers have decreased but they still have between eight and 10 people at most meetings. While they encourage all who have foster or adopted children in their homes to come, they are also looking for people who would like to be involved but can’t make the commitment to provide foster care, Peterson noted.
While Peterson and Larsen will continue to plan and organize the monthly meetings, they would like to find other groups who would be willing to plan and prepare a meal, provide child care during the meetings and organize fund-raisers or other activities for foster families, she said.
Dawson County currently has nine licensed foster families and six or more kinship families, Peterson said. Of foster families, 30 to 50 percent stop fostering each year. In Glendive, there are a few who have been doing it for many years but it’s hard and working with CFS can be challenging, she noted.
The support group helps address challenges with the department and helps foster parents understand delays and frustrations. Department personnel are overworked and understaffed. They do what they can, and the support group wants to help them as much as possible, Larsen said.
Providing foster care is hard, full of uncertainty and challenges but it is worth it, Peterson emphasized. Foster parents don’t have to be perfect, but have to be willing and able to provide a stable, loving, structured, and life-giving home.
“People are afraid it is too hard but they should give it a chance,” she noted, adding, “If we don’t care for them now and get their parents on track they will age out of the system and end up in crisis with no support.”
Any foster parents, adoptive parents or kinship providers interested in joining the support group or learning more about it are encouraged to contact Larsen at 987-1006 or Peterson at 720-526-9270. Anyone interested in helping with the logistics of the support group is also encouraged to contact either of them.
Reach Cindy Mullet at