“At’s possible!” Marc Fernandez proudly announces as he offers me a seat on his couch next to his two year old foster daughter. Marc and his husband Michael Leighton have become champions for the “We take Pride in All our Families” campaign, which Family Service of Rhode Island began a year ago in the hopes of diversifying the face of foster care in Rhode Island. The campaign set out to debunk the myths about foster care and set the record straight (or curved) about the need for LGBTQ* foster parents in Rhode Island.
Greg Wright, who heads the foster care department at Family Service of Rhode Island, began the campaign “We Take Pride In All Our Families” last year. Greg spoke to me about the misconceptions many people have about the foster care system. He was adamant in making two things clear; LGBTQ couples and individuals are able and encouraged to become foster parents, and “foster families are critically needed!” For years he has been hearing people say that they did not know they could become foster parents or questioned if they would be welcomed by agencies if they applied to be foster parents based on their orientation Greg informed GET that since Family Service has been involved with foster care their doors have always been open to foster parents of any orientation, but there have been misconceptions for years that may have prevented people from exploring this option. It was because of this that the campaign was born. Greg was also happy to speak about the supports offered to foster parents. The team works very hard to ensure that the foster parent and the foster child(ren) are the “right fit.” This means full disclosure, a ten week intensive training, a case manager, 24 hour phone support, and weekly team meetings. “We understand this is a huge thing to ask. This will change your life. If you have ever considered it call us, come visit, or visit our website.”
I also had the pleasure to sit down with foster dads Michael and Marc, and their two foster children, who welcomed me into their home to speak to their experience with Family Service of Rhode Island and their advocacy work for the foster care program. I was interested to hear their perspective from “down in the trenches” and understand what made the “We Take Pride In All Our Families” campaign so important to them.
Michael and Marc have spoken to many people about their experience with Family Service and even marched with the Family Service of Rhode Island banner in this year’s Providence Pride Parade. They say they are happy to be the public faces of the campaign if it will provide more children with homes. They spoke to the supports provided to them throughout their journey with foster care from taking their first step into Family Service of Rhode Island’s office to now two years into their foster placement. They began with a twelve week workshop where they were educated about the foster care system, what their rights and responsibilities would be as foster parents, and parenting a child in foster care. They were given the opportunity to participate in respite care where they fostered a child for 10 days while their foster parents were away. They experienced the team approach to foster care at Family Service of Rhode Island as their staff aided the couple in setting up their foster children’s rooms the day before their placement. They expressed that having two young children in their once dual income no children lifestyle was an adjustment. But a choice they would make again and again. They express feeling supported throughout the process being provided a case manager, access to a team member any time, weekly team meetings, emotional and financial support, court advocacy, and online parenting classes. Providing an extra layer of support and safety, Marc and Michael state they have never had a negative experience or been subject to discrimination when out in the community with their children.
Marc and Michael also had some helpful words for those who choose to foster. First, be aware of your feelings and remember reunification is always the goal. Secondly, talk to your partner or supportive people in your life: this is a whole new experience and you will really need one another’s support. Lastly, network with other foster parents and use the supports provided by the agency.
Marc and Michael also spoke about other ways to be of aid to children in our state’s foster care system. They urged people to look into respite foster care placement, or short term placement, and becoming a visiting resource. Greg, Michael, and Marc all had one thing in common and that was to say, “That one moment with one child can make such a difference…don’t be afraid to take the first step.” If you are interested in getting more information about becoming a foster parent in Rhode Island, Family Service of Rhode Island hosts an open house once a month for perspective parents. You can also go to their website www.Familyserviceri.org and click on the link for foster care.