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“To me, foster care is an act of humanity.”

Mary Haskins has been a certified therapeutic foster parent with The Next Door, Inc. for almost two years and in that time has had 11 youth come through her home — be that for a night, two weeks, or a year.

“The quote, ‘It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love’ comes to mind,” Haskins said. “Whether it’s for occasional respite care or you decide to care for two or three youth … it’s worth doing and we need you!”

The need is certainly there: Hood River County currently has eight certified foster homes, six of which are full time; the other two provide part-time or respite care, said Amy Lindley, foster parent recruiter and certifier for The Next Door.

“Adding another eight to 10 foster homes to our program would be ideal and would allow our program to support a greater number of youth who need care,” Lindley said. The program serves youth ages 6-18.

Someone pursuing foster parent certification should have the ability to be flexible, be 21 or older, be able to pass a background check, have reliable transportation, have an extra bedroom in their home and an interest in working with and supporting youth, she said.

Thirty-two hours of pre-service training is required, which is individualized to meet potential foster parents’ needs. Next Door’s program is part of a statewide campaign, called “Foster Plus,” a collaboration of 13 agencies around Oregon, Lindley said.

“(Foster Plus is) working to connect kids in need with support and stability of committed, caring foster families,” she said. “We also provide additional support and training to foster parents.”

See info box for more information on how to become a foster parent.

Haskins said she became a foster parent after her children “moved on with their lives” and her husband passed away. “I wanted to spend my time doing something worthwhile and meaningful,” she said. “I combined that thought with my experience as a Court Appointed Advocate (CASA) and decided I could help in an area of need in our community.”

Haskins said being a therapeutic foster parent is both easier and harder than she expected it to be.

“It’s easier because I have the team support of the case manager/case worker and the training and support staff who have provided the training and the tools that help recognize behavior struggles and ways to adjust my parenting to meet developmental and emotional needs,” she said. “I get to see the positive outcomes, sometimes instantly, sometimes over a longer period. It’s easier because they days are mostly normal days, like getting to spend time planning and preparing meals together and learning who they are and who they want to be as individuals.

“It’s harder because it stretches you and even changes you,” she said. “It’s harder because there are frustrating days when you are searching for the best way to support the needs of someone who’s often carrying a heavy load at a young age.”

Margarita and Gumaro Alcantar have been foster parents for two months and are fostering one child, their first.

“I wish I knew there was a program like The Next Door with so much support and structure,” said Margarita Alcantar. “Before becoming foster parents, we envisioned that we would have to figure everything out on our own, but that is not the case.”

Becoming a foster parent is rewarding because of the direct difference you can make in a youth’s life, she said, and the challenges are much the same as with any child.

“We get to show them how a loving home functions and give them skills to make better choices,” she said. “The most challenging part about being a foster parent is the same as being a regular parent: Your time is not yours; kids are the priority!

“The most rewarding part about being a foster parent is when your foster kid calls your home his home with a smile,” she added. “Just having dinner together, playing cards, building a healthy family relationship that the child may have never experienced before.”

“Although they are often in my home for a short time, they stay in my heart,” said Haskins. “While challenging at times, these youth have brought me invaluable life lessons in acceptance, patience, humility and humanity.”

She added that most youth are in the program “so their family of origin can recover from whatever issues exist that make home an unsafe place. While it’s challenging not to judge, I have learned that demonstrating healthy boundaries and acceptance are two important roles I can play in reunification of the child with their family down the road.

“I enjoy being part of the team that is there giving behind the scenes support to the youth and to me.”

Alcantar said that many people want to make a difference, but don’t know how. “Becoming a foster parent will help in a tremendous way, and the staff at The Next Door guide you every step of the way,” she said.

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