Treatment foster care hopes to add more to their family

Thousands of foster children are in need of homes in Alaska, but a select group may need a little more care than others.
May was Foster Parent Appreciation Month, and across the state organizations held events to encourage others to become foster parents.
Currently the number of foster youths needing homes does not match the available homes. There are about 2,000 foster youth in Alaska, half of which are in the Southcentral area. While 600 have found homes in Anchorage, another 400 are awaiting placement. That can mean extended stays in treatment centers, shelters and even McLaughlin Youth Center said Amanda Metivier, statewide coordinator for Facing Foster Care. The group is composed of current and former foster youth alumni who advocate using their personal experiences in foster care. Metivier is a former foster youth and current foster parent herself.
But the matching process is not simply a matter of placing children in open beds according to Olivia Shears, licensing coordinator for Alaska Children’s Services. Children who suffer with behavioral problems first are referred to the agency and then contact is made with the child’s biological parent or legal guardian. They are then set up with a treatment team that consists of an ACS case manager, social worker, parents, teachers and anyone that may be involved with the child’s behavioral treatment. They then contact foster parents who could be a match for the child based on possible treatment and a review of the child’s history. If the family decides that child would be a good fit, it is then up to the child to decide if they want to accept the placement.
The child then slowly transitions from either their biological home or hospital to the foster home. It is a slow process, with child spending only several hours or just an overnight at a time at the new foster parents home. Once the child has adjusted appropriately, they are moved into the home full time.
Metivier said that treatment foster care can often be harder on foster parents, it’s still an important part of foster care.
“Treatment foster care puts more pressure on you – not just training but you have a million other places you have to be, for appointments and meetings,” Metivier said.
Shears said that a typical stay is one year, but that occasionally stays can last less than six months or up tothree years. She said that families are not expected to adopt or take guardianship of the child after the treatment is completed.
Melissa Kaiser and her husband are a treatment foster care family with three children in their care, all boys, ages 10, 15 and 16. Kaiser said her family had initially decided to be traditional foster parents, but had friends who were involved in therapeutic foster care. The family went through training and became certified to care for children with special behavioral needs.
The youngest of their foster children is Alaska Native from a rural village. Kaiser said that her family had to work through some of the cultural differences with him. He would run across the street without worry, not used to the cars. He also was not used to making eye contact and sometimes struggled with language differences, since English was not his first language.
“They interpret things differently. If you joke they take it seriously,” she said.
When Kaiser first took him in as a foster child the child struggled with daily temper tantrums and aggression. Kaiser said in the first year he lived with them, the school principal would call everyday and they had to have extra support in school.
But his treatment has been effective. After a year, he no longer needs support in school. He’s excelling in his classes and will be participating in the spelling bee next February.
Many of the children receiving care are Alaska Native children. Statistics from ACS show that 48 percent of all foster children are of Native or Native American heritage. While ACS attempts to place Native children in Native homes, the amount of children outweighs the number of homes.
Even with the challenges, Kaiser said that being a treatment foster parent can be extremely rewarding. She said that one of her foster children had never received an Easter basket before this year.
“It was a big thing for him to share that,” Kaiser said. ” It’s the little things sometimes you do, things that other kids might take for granted.”