Foster Hope in Oswego County: Become a Foster Parent

MEXICO – Oswego County is currently experiencing a shortage of foster homes for children and teens. At any given time, there are up to 60 children in foster care. Less than half of the teens in care have the option to reside in a local foster home. As a result, they are placed in foster homes, group homes or other types of residential facilities outside of the county.

The Foster-Adoptive Recruitment Team at Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS) is searching for caring, compassionate people to help fill this gap.

“Due to the shortage of local facilities and foster homes, many children and youth throughout the county are now living in crisis,” said Gregg Heffner, commissioner of the Oswego County Department of Social Services. “It is essential that we provide them with a safe, stable environment. Foster care offers a family experience in an approved household to children who temporarily cannot remain in their own homes and whose needs can best be met in a foster family setting.”

He added, “Being a foster family is both a responsibility and an opportunity. It is one of the highest forms of community service and can be one of the most gratifying experiences that a person can have.”

Couples and single people over the age of 21 who meet New York State’s basic requirements for approval are invited to apply to the foster parent program. Applicants must show adequate income to support their own family, suitable sleeping and living space to accommodate foster children, and access to reliable transportation. They must also provide a physician’s statement, personal and employer references, and submit to background checks.

“The primary aim of foster care is to provide a nurturing setting for a child to achieve maximum growth and development,” said Patty Pennock, a senior caseworker at Oswego County DSS. “Due to the nature of the situation, it is necessary for applicants to undergo a thorough screening process and pre-service training.”

All prospective foster parents will receive an informational packet and are invited to attend an orientation meeting which DSS hosts monthly.

The next informational meeting will be Sept. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Department of Social Services, Spring Street, Mexico.

After attending the informational meeting, prospective foster parents begin weekly classes in the foster care program.

The 30-hour series is offered twice a year, on weeknights or Saturdays, and takes approximately three months to complete.

While some classes cover child behavior management, the primary focus of the program is to give the applicant an opportunity for complete self-evaluation before continuing the process.

After completing the classes, the prospective foster family receives a caseworker evaluation and the application, references and clearances are all checked.

They also participate in a “home study,” which includes a home visit and interviews with each family member to put together a comprehensive assessment of the family home.

A foster parent agreement between the family and the agency is then signed and a “Certificate to Board Children” is issued for a specific number of children for a one-year time period.

The ongoing process continues with caseworker evaluations during twice monthly visits after child placement, and six-hour refresher classes and re-certification every year.

“Prospective parents really have to have the heart for these kids,” said Brenda Weissenberg, a long-time foster parent. “You bring a child into your family environment and try to make them feel like they are a part of it. It can be difficult; there are challenges; but in the end, it is much more rewarding than anything else.”

Weissenberg and her husband, Scot, have been foster parents for nearly 20 years; taking in a dozen children.

“We started fostering young children and later took in teens, which may be the hardest age-group to place, but definitely not the hardest to care for. We’ve developed great relationships with these kids and maintain contact with nearly all of them to this day,” she said.

Twelve years ago, the Weissenbergs also had the opportunity to adopt one of the children in their care.

“Adoption isn’t actually something that happens a lot in foster care,” said Pennock. “More often than not, the goal of foster care is to help a struggling family while they sort out their issues so that the child can be re-introduced into the family home.”

One trend that has been occurring more often in recent years is the emergence of biological relatives coming forward to foster a child during a family crisis.

“The responsibility of caring for someone else’s child may seem overwhelming at first,” said Pennock. “However, as applicants learn more about the support services available and how the foster parent role has changed in recent years, they will gain a new perspective about how important this program is.”

She added, “As a foster parent, they become key members of a team that sets the goals and contributes to the growth and development of the child. They work closely with an experienced foster care caseworker and their supervisor as well as the birth parents, clinicians, schools and other community agencies to make important decisions affecting the child’s future.”

For more information about becoming a foster care parent and helping a child in need, contact Patty Pennock with Oswego County DSS at 315-963-5382 or [email protected]