When ‘Hello’ Means ‘Goodbye’ Too: The First Meeting (a Foster Family Story)

By Milica Jankovic

The moment when a child arrives at a foster home is shrouded in chaos and uncertainty. “They turned the house upside down,” says Rufina Sleight, foster parent with Closer to Home (CTH), as she recalls the arrival of a set of twins that she first began fostering four years ago. “The first thing I did; I gave them a ball,” adds Rufina, smiling.

While Rufina’s ingeniously simple method to introduce order worked for the twins, it left her wondering  how the children felt. Children’s perception of foster care is a mystery to grown-ups. In fact, a study done by the University of Western Ontario in 2009 revealed that children were confused about what would happen to them and why they had been placed in a foster home. Here at Closer to Home, depending on his or her age, a child is given as much information as possible about his or her new home. “We try to uncover all of those answers to questions that kids may not initially think about, but might need to know…like, “If I wake up in the middle of night, and I’m scared, where are you and where do I find you?”, explains Jody Hoogwerf, CTH Foster Care Program Manager.

However, the first meeting is the beginning of an end, since foster care is intended to be a temporary solution. “At Closer to Home, our mission is ’Uniting vulnerable children, youth, and families’, so family reunification is a significant priority. Our ultimate goal is to have kids in foster care for the least amount of time,” reveals Jody about the intricacies of foster care. Foster parents go through 40 hours of intensive training at Closer to Home and foster families are provided with continuous support and services throughout their fostering term. A CTH Coordinator also interviews children in foster care on a monthly basis to find out how they feel, if they are safe, and if they understand the situation or have any questions.

This week, as we celebrate National Foster Family Week, it is important to note that word-of-mouth is the most common way families become foster families. “A friend of mine suggested that I should do it,” explains Rufina about her foster parent history. “The hardest thing is letting them go… there is no such thing as preparation, you can never be ready,” she shares, fighting off tears. With her memories looping back to the first meeting of the twins, Rufina sums it up by saying: “It felt surreal.”

You can help one of the many young people in Calgary and surrounding areas who temporarily require the safety and consistency that foster families can provide. If you are interested in more information about our foster care program, please call Closer to Home at 403-543-0550 or email fostercare@closertohome.com.