Appeal for new foster parents as referrals rise after pandemic
Bermuda needs at least 10 more foster parents with referrals for foster care increasing since the end of the pandemic.
Selena Simons, foster care coordinator for the Department of Child and Family Services, told Hamilton Rotary Club on Tuesday: “Foster care is a life saver – it is a crutch and a strong pillar for a child during the time of crisis and has a phenomenal impact on the life of children.”
Ms Simons, who is a social worker and has worked within the department for 26 years, said there was a need for about 10 foster parents in Bermuda while other roles were also available.
She said anyone over the age of 21 can be eligible to be a foster parent but applicants will be subject to a vetting process via police background checks, medical clearance, character references, home visits and checklists by the Department of Health.
She said it also helps if applicants are open minded and flexible, and nurturing.
She added: “Patience is essential, as it is for all parents, as well as some experience with children and an overwhelming willingness to learn because we offer ongoing training – we have a combination of in-person training and online training that is available year round.
“Foster care is the temporary care of children who have been removed from their birth parents due to child abuse or neglect.
“Foster care is a safe haven that is nestled in the warm, nurturing, loving home of a variety of families. ”
Ms Simons listed other roles that members of the community, who cannot commit to being foster parents, can play.
There are opportunities for people to become respite caregivers, tutor a foster child, sponsor an extracurricular activity, make donations or mentor a parent.
She said of respite care giving: “It is a temporary foster parent for the full time foster parents.
“As an example, one of our foster parents had to leave Bermuda to become a medical escort for a family member.
“The child went and stayed with a respite foster parent for two weeks. Respite foster parent caregiving works out for some families because it is very time specific and they know what the dates are.”
Ms Simons said that the Government provides some funding for children who may have clinical needs.
She explained: “We have an extensive system in place where we make so many referrals within the community to entities that offer clinical services.
“The expectation is that not only will the child participate but many times the foster families participate.
“We cover all sorts of costs when it comes to clinical services – play therapy, psychological services, psychological assessments … we cover the cost of all of that.”
The DCFS is mandated under the Children Act 1998 to investigate all referrals of child abuse and neglect. Investigations are conducted by social workers jointly with the police.
• Neglect: Lack of suitable accommodation, lack of clothing, lack of food, lack of required medical care, insufficient supervision, domestic violence in front of children.
• Physical abuse: Non-accidental injuries that result in bruises, burns, cuts or broken bones.
• Sexual abuse: Fondling, molestation, penetration.
• Emotional abuse: Psychological harm, withdrawal of affection as a punishment.
Children can be removed from their birth parents when there are imminent safety concerns that cannot be immediately addressed by family members or friends during the time of the emergency.
Applications are submitted to the Family Court and magistrates make the final decision as to whether or not a child or children can remain in the care of the department.
Referrals for foster care have increased since the end of the pandemic, she said.
There was a lull in referrals of children during the pandemic, not least because many referrals come from schools.
But she added: “It feels like the pandemic is over and it feels like referrals are going up. There was a real difficult time where we couldn’t rely on schools and teachers because they were remote learning and could only tell us what they were able to observe on the screen.
“It was a real hindrance. Now we feel we are back to normal and we are definitely getting increases in referrals.”
Most children in need of foster care are at primary school age, Ms Simons said. According to department statistics from 2021, of the 67 children in foster care at that time, 29 were aged between 5 and 10, and 20 were aged between 11 and 14.