Almost daily, children who have been neglected or abused are entered into the court system and eventually placed in a strange home where they have never been before – scared, confused and worried about their Family and their future.
In the last year, nearly 15,000 children have been placed in out-of-home care throughout the state of Arizona. While the law has a preference to place these children with Family members first, that option is often unavailable. The court will then seek the assistance of locally licensed foster families.
Many people have preconceived ideas that military Families cannot provide a stable environment to adequately support a child coming from an already unstable home. However, Col. Dan McFarland, Fort Huachuca garrison commander, feels just the opposite.
“I think for a Family who has [experienced] multiple deployments and has learned to cope with it, they know [how the foster child feels] better than anyone else. Change is what causes anxiety and instability, but military Families, we do it all the time, and it is almost second nature. There is a learned resiliency that military Families have,” McFarland said.
In a letter written by Judge Donna Beumler, Cochise County Superior Court judge, she explained that she often encounters military Families who have welcomed fragile children, substance-exposed newborns, children with special needs, and children who had been abused by their caregivers, into their homes.
She said, “Every day, abused and neglected children in Cochise County, ranging in age from newborn to teenagers, come to my attention in need of temporary homes, foster Families or even more permanent placements.
“Time and time again, military Families affiliated with Fort Huachuca have opened their hearts, and have gone out of their way to provide loving homes for these children when they are most desperately needed.”
Fostering a child comes with many challenges for anyone, and being in the military can present other obstacles such as frequent travel, recurring moves or deployments. This might deter Families that are in the military from fostering but the foster parent does have the right, and it is suggested, to decline placement if the timing is not right.
Potential foster parents must be 21 years old, legal Arizona residents, and able to pass a criminal history background check.
According to Jessica Wells, the program supervisor with Arizona’s Children Association, the ideal foster parent is one who will not give up on the children, follows the licensing guidelines and keeps in touch with the biological Family.
Once the decision is made to become a foster parent, choose a local licensing agency and pay a visit. Typically, an orientation will be set up to go over the details regarding what is to be expected. Following the orientation, agency officials will conduct a home study and safety evaluation.
The next step will be the state-required training. The state will provide potential parenting tools and resources that assist in parenting children who have been neglected or abused.
This step is often referred to as the “weeding out” process, allowing the parents to determine if this is the right time, what type of child they can successfully parent or if this is right choice for their Family.
The process of become a licensed foster parent can be lengthy, and licenses are not transferable between states. If Families are less than a year out from the end of their time at the current duty station, Wells recommends waiting until their next assignment.
“In a perfect world, you can finish with the classes in 12 weeks and be licensed in 13 weeks. But that’s in a perfect world. It usually runs four to six months because the classes are three months long. And then [it takes] another one to two months to get all of the paperwork in,” Wells explained.
Training for military Families can be scheduled to accommodate frequent travel but it will extend the length of completion.
Once training is finished, the license paperwork will be submitted. When a child who meets the foster Family’s requirements comes available, the agency will contact the Family.
“Foster parenting may not be for everyone, but if it’s not specifically for you, there are ways that you can support foster Families and that is an important piece. Whether it is helping that foster mom out by giving them a ride, or a night off, or volunteering at different functions, there are things that people can do to help foster Families,” said Deborah Nishikida, Division of Children, Youth and Families, southeast region program manager.
The willingness of military Families to selflessly and unconditionally provide for these children represents all that the military is about.
In her letter, Beumler said, “I’m not sure how the military defines the concept of ‘going above and beyond the call of duty’ but, from my perspective, these military Families far exceed all my expectations, and are, without a doubt, a blessing to our community.”
For more information about becoming a foster Family, contact the local Family Service Center or visit www.azdes.gov.