September 28, 2013

Essex County in need of foster parents


---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Becky and Bobby Provost have successfully raised three loving biological daughters, all of whom are now adults.

But Becky and Bobby made a decision 18 years ago to open their doors to other children in the community who face the challenges and difficulties that often arise in family settings.

The Provosts are foster parents for the Essex County Department of Social Services. Becky says she cannot count the number of children who have stayed at their home — either for a few days or for many years — to receive support that may have been shaky in their own homes.

“We never know how long they are going to be here: days, months, years,” Becky said from her home in Willsboro recently. “It all depends on the situation.

“Our ultimate goal is to reunite them with their families,” she added. “We work closely with the biological parents to help find a way so they can be reunited (with their children).”

It is always rewarding for the foster parent to help in the healing process when a child has developed a rift between his or her biological parents, said Becky, who feels a sense of pride and accomplishment when she can help a child during that time away from home and can initiate a reunion with the child’s parents.

“I love kids; I love helping them in any way I can,” she said. “Sometimes it’s tough working with the biological parents. Each case is different, but you’ve got to find a way to deal with everything as best you can. You just remember that you’re doing it for the children.”

Sometimes the best efforts will not result in a reunion between biological parents and children. Stephanie Burrows came to the Provosts 12 years ago as a foster child and has remained with them ever since.

She is now a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh and has “aged out” of the Foster Care Program, but she spends weekends at home with the Provosts, who have been her mom and dad for all those years.

“In the beginning, it was a little rough, going from two completely different environments,” Stephanie said of those early days when she and her sister, Markie, first arrived at the couple’s house.

“As the years went by, I got really close to my foster family, close enough to call them my family,” she added. “If I wouldn’t have been in foster care, I wouldn’t have the benefits I enjoy now. My mom and dad have given me the emotional and financial support to do all the things I’ve wanted to do. They’ve been 100 percent supportive of all the decisions I’ve made.”

Stephanie speaks or texts with her mom just about every day while she’s at school, she said.

The Provosts initially looked to foster care after having three daughters and were advised against having another biological child by their doctor.

“We wanted a son,” Becky recalled of those initial conversations to join foster care.

They adopted 4-month-old Antonio in 1998 after he first came to them as a foster child, and Antonio is now a permanent member of a household that welcomes children to share in their close-knit family.

“You treat (the foster children) just like you treat your own children,” she said. “We want them all to know that they have another family, even when they are reunited with their biological parents.”

The Essex County Department of Social Services provides foster care for any county residents in need of support.

“Essex County is a large, rural county with a small population,” said Cynthia Sparks Allwell of the Department of Social Services.

“A positive quality of our rural area is its natural beauty and the friendliness of its people, but a downside of living in Essex County has been living with a sparseness of resources available to support its people.

“We have been diligently working to improve the services available to families and children.”

The county initially tries to help families remain together during times of crises, but foster care is a resource that can be used when other options have not been successful.

Sparks Allwell agrees with Becky Provost that the foster family should work with the biological family to get kids back to the moms and dads as quickly as possible.

“We diligently work to reunite families, so that children have permanent homes,” she said. “Children do not (always) do well in foster care. Kids need permanency.”

If efforts to reunite biological children and parents are not successful, Social Services will then seek other avenues to provide that permanency, including the option for biological parents to surrender their parental rights and efforts to find adoptive parents or permanent foster homes for those children.

“Our foster and/or adoptive parents are some of the most important members of Essex County DDS,” Sparks Allwell said. “We can’t do the work we do without them.

“Although fostering/adoption is very rewarding work, it requires the use of some skills,” she added. “We give our parents these skills in a series of trainings, which is mandatory for foster-home certification.”

One of the objectives of training is to help applicants decide whether to become foster or adoptive parents. As participants learn more about the program, they can make a more informed decision on whether foster care is for them.

“We periodically need to replenish our list of homes, as oftentimes foster parents adopt and become permanent resources for kids and don’t have space to continue taking children,” Sparks Allwell said.

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The Essex County Department of Social Services is currently involved in a Foster Care Training Program. Anyone interested in participating should contact Cynthia Sparks Allwell at 873-3419.