As someone who recently became a foster parent, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo had a simple but strong message to other adults on Wednesday: “Don’t wait.’’
Lembo was among a myriad of speakers along with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at Jordan’s Furniture showroom in New Haven during a Department of Children and Families (DCF) press conference to promote National Foster Care Month.
“As a parent who recently adopted children I am hoping today to give somebody else the idea to act,” Lembo said. “There are kids who are waiting. This is all about the kids — all of you out there can make a difference.”
Lembo, who adopted three children with his husband, Charles Frey, became an emergency foster home last month. With all but one of their now adult three children living on their own, Lembo and Frey again opened their home for what he was told could be a few hours or a few weeks. Their first placement was a 9-week-old baby girl who stayed with them for two days.
Malloy lauded the state of Connecticut’s efforts to find homes for foster children.
The governor noted that the percentage of children in state care living with relatives or someone else they know has risen to its highest level ever. Connecticut reached its peak March 1 when 41.1 percent of children in care lived in a “kinship” home, which is the term used for relatives and other people with whom the child has an established relationship.
Connecticut achieved the 40-percent threshold for the first time in October 2015 and has remained at greater than 40 percent for each of the last six months. There also has been a 14-percent reduction in the total number of children in care compared to January 2011 and a nearly two-thirds decline (64 percent) in the number of children living in group settings.
“We believe deeply that keeping children with parents, relatives, and kin is the best way to prevent and reduce the trauma a child experiences when being removed from familiar surroundings,” Malloy said. “It’s a policy that’s been successful. At the same time, that’s not always possible, so the role of the traditional foster family is critical in what is now a much-improved system from what it once was.”
Malloy added, “It is really the DCF workers who deserve the biggest round of applause.” Pointing out several DCF workers who made the trip to Jordan’s for the press conference, the governor added: “The work you do is the hardest job in America.”
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said traditional foster families open their homes to children because they find it a rewarding experience. “Foster parents are wonderful people motivated by their love of children,” Katz said. “Fostering provides meaning and joy that few other experiences offer. It is not always easy to be a foster parent. But the emotional rewards are unique.”
Special efforts are made to recruit families for sibling groups, children with special needs, and teenagers. Much of these recruitment activities are specific to the child and seek to identify, locate and license individuals who already know the child. However, more general recruitment activities also are utilized, including special events like those happening in May and efforts to raise awareness in the news media and social media.
On March 1, 2016, there were 4,110 children in care compared to 4,780 on Jan. 1, 2011, a reduction of 14 percent. Of these, 4,110 children (82.4 percent) lived with a family (traditional foster home or kinship home). On Jan. 1, 2011, 67.5 percent lived with a family. On Jan. 1, 2000, there were approximately 7,600 children in care. There are approximately 2,860 licensed foster homes of all types, including therapeutic foster homes for youth with more complex needs.
Jordan’s Furniture President and CEO Eliot Tatelman said finding children homes is an issue dear to his heart. He said supporting foster care efforts has been part of the furniture store’s initiatives in its Boston location and he intends for it to be the same in New Haven.
Those at the press conference saw a “Heart Gallery” video exhibit at the Jordan’s showroom, featuring children hoping to be adopted.
At the end of the press conference, the children eagerly waited in line, at Tatelman’s invitation, to try out the “zip line” indoor ropes course at Jordan’s.