“Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?”
According to Ashley Reichard, that phrase was one she and her husband, Lee, were familiar with for years. The Reichards talked about foster care for a long time before they decided to jump in.
The Camden couple is now fostering two boys, ages 13 and 15, and they have a biological teenage son. The brood was getting haircuts when Reichard took the time to speak to The Post-Intelligencer.
“We just really wanted to help a kid who hasn’t had normalcy, or the ideal situation growing up,” she said.
The couple knew people who had fostered, or even adopted through foster care.
Reichard said she heard about an informational meeting at Youth Villages, and the pair decided to attend at the last minute.
“By the time the meeting was over, we just said, ‘Yes, sign us up,’” she said.
Reichard said that her upbringing and her husband’s were a bit different, but that they both experienced abuse at some point in their lives.
“And of course, life isn’t perfect now,” she said. “But it’s kind of a white picket fence life, so why not share it?”
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. According to the Children’s Bureau website, this month is a time to recognize that we can all play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care.
Most people know what foster care is, but Reichard said many people get the wrong impression of its rewards and challenges.
“Take the picture in your mind and flip it on its head,” she said with a laugh. “People think the hard part is the attachment and letting go, but the purpose is to get attached to the child.”
She said that one of the most important parts of being a foster parent is providing a safe place where the child can feel joyful emotions, and can be supported through difficult ones.
“The hard part is the day-to-day,” Reichard said. “Seeing them start to open up and then regress is hard. Prepping them for the next steps in life is hard.”
Youth Villages and other organizations that certify foster parents begin with a six- to eight-week training period. Prospective foster parents can also be certified through the Department of Children’s Services.
“We usually went to training twice a week, and they really worked with our schedules,” Reichard said. “It was simpler than we thought, really.”
The certification teaches prospective foster parents how to understand and deal with trauma that children may have faced.
Reichard said she learned a lot through foster parent certification training.
“I’d like to encourage anybody who’s thought about it ... find a resource,” she said.
Once foster parents are certified, it can take a few days to a few months for a child placement to be offered.
PREPARING FOR SPECIFIC TYPE
“What people don’t realize,” said Reichard, “Is that you get to spell out what kind of child you’re looking for. They may call about other kids, but you don’t have to agree on a placement.”
This allows foster parents to prepare for specific ages, genders and traumas when preparing for a placement.
If a family is only comfortable with girls, they can only accept girls. If they’re not equipped to care for a child who has experienced certain types of trauma, they don’t have to.
Reichard said that some of this can turn on its head, too.
“I think we originally said we were open to boys, ages three to five,” she laughed. “We ended up agreeing to a placement of two teenagers.”
She said the support from case workers and social workers doesn’t go away after training. Foster families can always ask for help.
“They’re there when you want them, and there when you don’t,” Reichard said with a good-natured smile.
There are several options for foster parents when it comes to long-term goals, too.
Reichard said that foster parents can be certified to foster to adopt, but the goal of Youth Villages is to reunite families whenever possible.
Therefore, many of the children in foster care are ineligible for adoption unless their parents have had their rights terminated by a judge.
The Reichards are fostering long-term now, but originally they fostered through what’s called “respite care.”
Respite foster care is meant to offer full-time foster parents breaks when needed.
Many parents can drop children off with a grandmother or hire a babysitter when they go out of town, but these options are more difficult for foster parents, especially those who are caring for children with any kind of special need.
Luckily, respite care can place foster children in another home, with other adults who have completed foster care training and know how to properly care for children with trauma.
Reichard said they thought respite care was a lot of fun. They would care for a child over a three- to five-day period, and make sure they had stories to tell their long-term foster family when they went home.
“We would go camping every weekend with kids who had a blast,” she said. “Once, we took some kids to Nashville Shores. They had never been. It was awesome.”
Anyone interested in foster care can contact Youth Villages of Paris at 641-4141.
“If you have the resources to help a child,” said Reichard, “then do it.”