Because Jay was born prematurely, Christen has already been taking him to see various doctors who are now trying to determine if he has any developmental issues. She does not know how long Jay will be living with her and her roommate, who have both trained to be foster parents at Forestdale, a non-profit agency located in Forest Hills that primarily serves the Queens County child welfare system.
To become foster parents, Christen and her roommate both completed a 30-hour training program at Forestdale called the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), which adheres to the idea of open communication among foster parents, birth families, and casework staff. During the ten-week instruction period, prospective parents learn about raising foster children through role playing in various scenarios.
In addition to training, applicants must receive clearance from the New York State central registry for child abuse and pass a criminal record check. Candidates must also be at least 21 years old, can be either single or married, and have other children living at home. The entire evaluation process usually takes three to four months, during which applicants also need to pass psychological tests, receive home visits from child welfare workers, and provide background references.
Christen and her roommate welcomed an eight-month-old girl into their home in August named Maya. Similar to their situation with Jay, they received a phone call from Forestdale only several days before Maya’s arrival and did not know how long she would be living with them.
Christen said she found the unpredictability of the phone calls from the agency to place children “an emotional roller coaster. You have no idea what type of child they are trying to place. Your life can change in a minute just based on one phone call.”
Although Maya only stayed with her foster parents for a month, Christen said she treasured every moment she spent with her, recalling, “I treated her like I would have treated my own child. It was heartbreaking to see her leave.”
The Administration for Children’s Services, New York City’s child welfare agency, provides Forestdale with cases of children in Queens County who have been neglected, abused or whose parents are otherwise unable to take care of them. As foster parents, Christen and her roommate receive a government stipend to assist them in paying for child care related expenses. When Forestdale calls to see if they would like to care for a child, the prospective parents have the right to refuse the offer.
Forestdale’s staff attempts to place children in homes that best suit their needs. Usually, if there are relatives capable and willing to take care of a child, the agency gives the immediate family preference for placement. Forestdale also has other criteria when searching for a home for children such as physical, psychological, and medical needs. If the birth parents are unable to make the progress needed for the child to be returned to them, then Forestdale will try to place the child in a permanent home either with a foster family or through the adoption process.
Founded in 1854, the Forestdale agency is comprised of three buildings discreetly located on a small campus of green grass and trees. Besides foster care and adoption, Forestdale provides other family services to its community.
Their fatherhood initiative program assists estranged fathers in reclaiming a role in their children’s lives through group discussion, individual counseling, and job training and placement. Another program Forestdale pioneered is its faith-based and neighborhood initiative, which financially supports religious and civic leaders to train others within their organizations to become foster parents.
Whether it be adopting a foster child or mentoring a teen in foster care, Forestdale is always looking for volunteers who are interested with helping children in need of temporary or permanent homes. While it appears that becoming a foster parent requires a lot of training, time, and paperwork, there are more intangible rewards to the process.
Explaining the emotional gratification of the hard work involved, Christen summarizes, “I know that how I care for children now will affect the rest of their lives.”
For more information about Forestdale, visit their website or call (718) 263-0740.