By: Deanna Rebro | Category: Special Interest | Issue: May 2008
The staff of Choices for Life Foster Care is ready to help you make a difference in the life of a special needs child. (Back row L to R): Greg Stiver, Maria Carter, Leslie Yocham, Lisa Prescott, Stephen Barton, (Front row L to R) Donna Bonds, Elva Westermark and Kelly Dunbar.
Fostering children with special needs is a very challenging task, and both the rewards and difficulties are great. The work requires exceptionally compassionate people. If you have what it takes, Choices for Life Foster Care has a child waiting for you.
The therapeutic foster care agency at 724 S. Mission in Sapulpa desperately needs foster families to care for youth between the ages of three and 18. Unlike traditional foster care, Choices for Life focuses on children with special needs. They help children from overcrowded shelters and provide them the specialized treatment that they need but would not receive in traditional foster care.
Leslie Yocham, Choices for Life supervisor, says each child is carefully evaluated and matched with a stable foster family, who will give the young person a chance to heal and grow, and then return home. “The goal is always reunification with the biological families,” Leslie explains.
Lisa Prescott spends her days recruiting and training foster families. She tries to prepare them for the six months to two and a half years ahead. They meet for seven weeks, two hours each week, before they receive pre-certification. Training is free.
A careful screening and matching process is performed with foster parents, their biological children and the foster child. How the individuals are likely to impact each other is crucial, because it can be an extremely delicate situation. The idea is for the entire family to create a positive influence and help the foster child develop interpersonal skills and adapt to society. These skills are intended to last a lifetime.
Sometimes teachers who have had a child in their classroom will volunteer to foster him or her. Empty nesters who have raised particularly difficult children often feel up to the challenge. "It calls for tough love,” says Leslie. Teenagers in particular need care. They are also the most difficult to place. It demands a solid team effort to help a foster child prepare for a successful life. Often feelings of sadness and anger must be addressed. Doctors, counselors, caseworkers and the entire foster family must work together every day.
Choices for Life recognizes the value of a good foster home. Children in foster care have more contact with foster parents than anyone else. They are the primary agents of change in the lives of these kids.
The agency provides monetary assistance and planned “rest and relaxation” weekends for the foster parents. Ongoing training and support is also provided through individual, family and group sessions. Crisis services are on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whatever the question or problem, someone is available to help.
Choices for Life also helps the child’s biological family. In most cases the family is involved with the child’s counseling, treatment and foster family.
Although foster care is intended to be temporary, there are instances in which it has become a lifelong commitment. Leslie noted that two adoptions have occurred, and two more are in progress, because parental rights were terminated or other circumstances transpired.
The next Choices for Life training class begins in June. Leslie and Lisa would be happy to discuss the requirements or answer questions for anyone interested in fostering a special needs child. Singles are welcome, too. Choices for Life also offers the opportunity to meet seasoned foster parents and new parents, as well as some of the children who need care. Call Choices for Life Foster Care at 248-4340. Hours of business are Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Deanna Rebro has worked in the publishing industry 30+ years, including eight years writing for Value News. She has also worked in real estate for the past six years. Deanna graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio with a B.A. in Journalism. Outside of work, she serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for Pet Adoption League. “Every story I write is a learning experience,” she said.