A nonprofit organization, the Utah Foster Care Foundation (UFCF) has served hundreds of children each year since its founding 15 years ago as part of a statewide effort to reverse the trend of decreasing numbers of foster families and the increasing numbers of children in need of them. The only organization of its kind nationwide, UFCF attempts to find, educate, and support foster and adoptive families to care for the children in Utah’s foster care system — a goal that can be as challenging and rewarding as foster parenting itself, says Geri Swift, the foster and adoption recruiter for UFCF’s Moab branch.
Swift describes her own foster children as “little bits of light in my life,” a sentiment echoed throughout the homes of other foster parents in the Grand County area.
For Swift, being a foster parent doesn’t just mean providing shelter and stability for a child in need. It means helping an entire family return to a sense of normalcy.
“The number one goal is reunification,” she said. “It is always better for a child if they can be reunified with their family. So as a foster parent, you become a healer and a helper of the family.”
In Utah alone, there are about 2,600 children in foster care at any time and about 1,300 licensed foster families. In Grand and San Juan counties combined, there are between 55 to 65 children in need of foster care at any time. At present, only seven foster families serve the Grand and San Juan area.
And right now, Swift said, “all our seven homes are full, so most of our children have to be placed out of area, all the way from St. George to Logan.”
Kim Allison, who has six years of experience as a foster parent in Moab, said sending those kids to other communities makes it harder to bring families back together.
“It’s heartbreaking when we have to send our kids to Salt Lake or Price because there’s no available foster homes here,” Allison said. “It makes reunification all that much more difficult.”
Having worked with UFCF since its founding, Mike Hamblin, director of foster family recruitment statewide, intimately knows of Eastern Utah’s “great need” for foster families.
“The best thing for children in Utah is a pool of families in every community that meets the needs of the foster children from that same community, where they can at least attend the same schools,” Hamblin said. “But unfortunately, because of the great need, we are driven by immediate placement instead of the best placement for that child, which is remaining in his or her community.”
For the uninformed, the simple phrase “foster care” may call to mind several inaccurate stigmas and fears.
“The biggest barrier for potential foster parents is fear,” said Swift. “Potential foster families might be afraid — especially of teenagers. But they don’t realize that most kids that come into care — about 99 percent of them — are coming because of the actions of their parents, not their own actions.”
Most children are placed into foster care because of family neglect and abuse. In many cases, parental substance abuse is a contributing factor, Swift said. For children experiencing the trauma of neglect or abuse, finding themselves in a loving foster home can build a foundation of good habits for a lifetime, she said.
“Foster care is not just about being the caregivers while mom and dad get their life in order, its about influencing children for the rest of their lives,” Allison said
She notes that a positive influence can be made whether a foster parent has a child for several weeks or ends up adopting that child.
“The reward and the challenge of foster parenting is being able to let that child totally bond and attach to you and then let go,” she said. “You have to fully let them into your heart because once a child learns to make those bonds, then they will be able to make them anywhere a person allows them into their life.”
Along with the initial 32 hours of training to become a state licensed foster parent, the Utah Foster Care Foundation holds classes every month for foster families covering topics such as helping children with trauma, how to discipline, and how to handle stress.
“We are constantly training and helping each other as foster families,” Swift said.
Ella Rae and Thomas Edwards decided a year ago to become foster parents. Since then, they have had three foster children in their home, ages 5, 10 and 12.
“[We wanted] to share our blessings with someone who might need them,” Ella Rae Edwards said.
The couple sees foster parenting not as a chore, but a gift.
“One of my foster children told me I was their very best-est Grandma,” she said.
Hamblin said he asks potential foster families to “give me a slow yes instead of a fast no.”
“Foster parenting might not be for everyone but if you don’t get the information, how would you know if it is,” he said. “Come to an open house, talk to us; ask those questions.”
Swift said families with children “are awesome because children help children.”
“If a child comes into a home with another child they can relate to them, play with them,” she said. “It helps the foster child through their adjustment and move through their trauma.”
Though some older families are also a good fit for fostering, they also sometimes come up against their own personal hurdles, Swift said.
“Some may feel like they were a failure raising their own kids so how could they become a foster parent? Yet these people are some of the greatest foster parents we have because they’ve had struggles with their kids growing up,” Swift said. “These families will step up to the bar and take these children, work with them, and have success for these kids.”
Facing an increasing need for foster homes in Utah, the handful of foster families in Grand and San Juan counties share their homes with a sense of purpose and good-spirit, Swift said, adding that she is grateful to them and to their dedication to children.
“A good foster parent is someone who loves children and is willing to share their life with them,” Swift said.
For more information about fostering a child, contact Geri Swift at 435-259-3345 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.