Turning 18 doesn't mean children don't need love: specialist
Children still need care after the age of 18.
That was the message, Pat O'Brien, an American childcare specialist, delivered to a group of parents during a workshop at Loyalist College Monday evening. The workshop, staged by the Hastings Children's Aid Society, attracted about 50 people, the majority of whom were foster parents seeking parental advice.
O'Brien said the workshop, dubbed Unconditional Commitment: The only love that matters - to teens, is aimed at underscoring the importance of finding permanent homes for children before they age out of the system and possibly end up homeless. "It really focuses in on why people feel like their only option is giving up and how they can overcome that feeling and keep their lifetime commitment to their kids," he said.
Fifteen years ago, O'Brien started an agency called "You Gotta Believe! The Older Child Adoption and Permanency Movement Inc., with the aim of finding permanent homes and parents for youth who were no longer in foster care. "I'm delighted that my vision and what I do is of a great interest here," he said. "That shows me that even if not everything is done the right way at the moment, they still want to do it the right way."
He said there is no system in place in Canada or the United States to place children in a permanent homes after they are discharged from foster care at the age of 18 or 21. "There is not a lot of dedication to getting kids permanent parents," he said. "The paradigm that I bring is that the only form of permanency you can give a kid, is people making the lifetime commitment of adoption to the kids."
Pat Gamble, HCAS manager of resources, said O'Brien was brought in to cement the message that more needs to be done to provide permanent homes for children who age out of the local system. She said some of the children in the system are allowed to stay in care up to the age of 21. "When they age out of the system, if they don't have a family, then they are on their own," she said. "We're very concerned about young people not having a family."
Bill Russell agreed. Russell, who has been a CAS foster parent for about five years, said he was using the workshop as an educational tool. He said government cutbacks make it difficult for agencies to provide services to youngsters after they age out of the system.
"You don't tell your own children when they get to 21, goodbye don't come back," he said. "That's what you do with these kids. They end up kind of lost."
30 March 2010