October is Foster Family Month in B.C. – an opportunity to recognize and honour the contributions foster families make in communities.
As a longtime foster parent, Heather Bayes is well aware of the contributions and the need for more foster parents in the Shuswap.
Bayes has worn many hats – past-president of the BC Federation of Foster Parents Association (BCFFPA), secretary for the provincial association, president of the Interior region and a member of the board for the local Salmon Foster Parents Association.
And, as a foster parent for many years, she has firsthand experience to share.
“My husband and I have been doing this for 17 year and have had about 30 or so kids, some as short as a couple of days, others that have stayed for years,” she says, noting she would have to go through her albums in order to get an exact number.
Bayes says she doesn’t foster babies or young children, usually those who are over 13 years of age.
“The youngest we took in recent in years was eight and we have since adopted him,” she says. “As soon as we saw him, we knew he was ours. It was not our intent to ever adopt, not part of the plan.”
Bayes says foster parents measure success in ways that are different from the general public.
“We take them where we could find them; it could be as small as a child saying please and thank you who has never done it before,” she says.
“And we’ve had huge successes, kids who have made complex plans for their future.”
She talks of one young foster child who told the Bayes he was going to be in the military and made his plan, followed through, was accepted into the army at 18 and is very happy.
“We’ve had others maybe not so successful; whatever the reason a child comes into foster care they are traumatized,” she says. “Some have had mental health, drug issues, health issues, but the bottom line is they’re just kids, scared kids, happy kids, just kids.”
Bayes says that what many see as bad behaviours she sees as survival behaviours, ones children and youth have developed to keep themselves safe. They will hang onto behaviours until they are absolutely sure they are safe, she adds.
“I have never had a kid I would classify as a bad kid,” she says.
She says the need for foster parents is always greater than the number of children needing them.
“We have fewer and fewer foster parents and the average age of foster parents is going up,” she says. “Anybody can foster – a couple, single person. Diversity is more than welcome and there’s not a typical foster. All children can benefit from a good honest person.”
Foster parents need to have the ability to separate issues from the children, have to have a sense of humour, be flexible.
“Sometimes it’s really dark, but sometimes it’s funny,” Bayes says. “You need to know your limits, to know yourself.”
Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster parent may call the British Columbia Federation of Foster Parents at 1-800-663-9999 or the local branch of the Ministry for Children and Families.