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When it comes to the subjects of fostering and adoption, Newtown Congregational Church Associate Pastor Kristin Provost Switzer and her husband, Scott, walk the talk — and then some… and then some more.
During a recent foster and adoption workshop she hosted in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the local clergy member and Newtown native explained why the calling for individuals and couples to take on young children facing a crisis at home is so intense right now.
“Scott and I are first-time fosters,” she said, recalling that after the couple became qualified foster parents, “There was one weekend where we had nine calls for separate foster placements.”
As Scott Switzer, a professional musician, held a little one quietly in the front row among a handful of potential foster and adoptive program candidates, his wife explained how they got the call to take in the baby two days after the birth.
“The gratification was instant and it’s rewarding, 99 percent of the time,” she said with a smile. Rev Provost Switzer said that she and Scott value the opportunity to play a role in reuniting children with their biological parents, or helping children in crisis, some as young as days old, or as advanced as age 19, find a new home and a shot at a brighter life.
And make no mistake, the hundreds of DCF-qualified foster parents in the state network are fractional to the 4,300 young people currently waiting for a long-term or permanent home.
“The need is so, so great,” Rev Provost Switzer said, adding that any of these children could be set adrift because of drugs, neglect, or violence in their young lives.
“Some of the situations are absolutely heartbreaking, but these kids depend on people like you to help them out,” she said, pointing to the current and prospective caregivers who had gathered for the orientation session.
The clergywoman, who serves as the congregation’s youth minster, said she often hears prospects do not believe they have enough time to be an appropriate foster or adoptive parent.
“But if Scott and I can do it, anybody can,” she said, detailing how she stays busy working up to 50 hours each week, while Scott handles three separate musician jobs.
Danbury regional DCF Systems Director Sergio Alvarez said that his agency and the partnering organizations that help handle the administration and placement of young people needing a temporary or permanent home “couldn’t do it without good homes and good people like you.”
“As foster parents, we depend on you to take these children to medical appointments, to visit with their biological parents, to communicate with us,” he said, adding that the DCF and its partners are also available with 24-hour support, including a peer-to-peer network, to respond to everything from emergencies to casual questions.
Thousands Of Calls
DCF staffer Linda Dixon explained that every year, her office receives as many as 100,000 calls for placement.
“We have 4,300 kids in our care right now,” she said. While 90 percent are able to stay with family members, there were still 944 who needed a loving place to stay on the day of the Newtown information session and only 444 qualified foster homes, most of which were already at or nearing capacity.
“These kids are great, strong survivors who need some love and structure in their lives,” she said. “All that most of these kids crave is a normal environment. Think about the rewards and the positive impact you could have.”
Among the hundreds of youths in need of a home in the Danbury-Waterbury DCF region were 27 groups of two or more siblings, which the agency tries to keep together either in groups as small as pairs, or in their entirety.
“We’ve had up to four together in each home at one time,” she said.
Among those who turned out for the session were a couple who were already adoptive parents of a young person now aged mid-20s, and another couple who had four children of their own.
The attendees heard from a highly experienced foster parent who has taken on the seemingly saintlike status as a foster parent for a succession of highly medically compromised children. Irene Kish presented as a caring and outgoing individual who recognized that her forte was looking after certain children who experienced situations from severe asthma to those who may be wheelchair bound or bedridden and receiving live-in nursing care.
Besides caring for her own 88-year-old mother, who still pitches in watching over the children herself, Ms Kish provides a home to six adoptees from Connecticut, two Romanian orphans, and a child from Korea.
After 21 years working in the foster system, Ms Kish was caring for her 105th child at the time of the info session.
As the product of a challenging childhood fraught with verbal abuse, Ms Kish said that “foster care has done amazing things for me.”
“It’s really the best thing we ever did,” she said, “and we already have a family of ten!”
“It proved that I can take care of these children, nurture them, and it makes me realize that life is short, and so giving back to these kids is really important,” she added. “You just need to love them and support them and give you the best that you can give them.”
DCF social worker Jean Norvig explained that of the 400-plus children awaiting homes in the Danbury region, half of them are between newborn and 5 years of age.
“These are children that will bring such joy to your lives,” she said. “Working with them has taught me so much. When they arrive you can just see the neglect and how it effects them. But then within a couple of days with a loving caregiver where their basic needs are being met, I come back and they look like different persons.”
Ms Norvig also reiterated the desperate need for homes that can accommodate two or more siblings.
“We have a dire need for sibling groups,” she said. “Unfortunately, few families are willing or able to take more that one child, and we want to keep siblings together because it mitigates the trauma they are experiencing — these kids tend to be anchors for each other.”
She also outlined the need for parents like Ms Kish, who can be trained to manage medically complex cases.
Anyone interested in getting information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent — with no obligation — is asked to call toll free 888-KID-HERO (888-543-4376) or the state’s 211 Infoline.