Times have been tough for Hawaii families, many of them feeling stretched to the limit. Some have taken in relatives suddenly in need due to a poor economy; others simply are too distracted by job and money concerns to think much beyond their immediate circle.
How to share your home
For information on becoming a foster, or "resource," family:
So while it’s not surprising that recruiting for the state’s foster parenting program became one of the many casualties of the recession, Hawaii simply can’t stand by and hope to weather this particular storm. Drug addiction and other social ills that leave many children without functional families persist; it even grew worse as job losses mounted. But, as Star-Advertiser writer Dan Nakaso reported, the number of foster families prepared to take in children plunged by nearly a third last year.
Officials for Hui Ho’omalu, the nonprofit hired by the state Department of Human Services to handle recruitment and training of foster parents, are concerned that the work force of trained "resource parents" can’t meet the needs of foster children, currently estimated at 1,400.
Fortunately, there is reason to hope that Hawaii will respond to the call, demonstrating the strength of island caregiving traditions. Already, in the few days since the story’s publication, a few dozen willing to go through the extensive training for foster parenting have stepped up, said Cindy Shimabukuro of the hui.
Foster children are dropping in number because the state has been working to send many of them home to their biological parents. But even when that ideal is possible, there is usually lag time before parents are equipped to take them. Foster parents provide the safety net to fill that gap.
Many couples — or single adults — may not think that they are capable of filling a need. Or, Shimabukuro said, many don’t realize that the state strives to ensure that room-and-board allotments and some qualified supplemental reimbursements cover financial costs.
What helps are the personal stories of couples such as Patti and Len Poleshaj. They offered their home and love to a 17-year-old boy who had already lived in nine other shelters or foster homes, bouncing from one to the next since he was 8 months old. Instability, the hallmark of a foster child’s existence, is a poor foundation for a life and often leads to more misery later.
It is in everyone’s interest that Hawaii continues striving to do better by these kids. The hui has launched several outreach initiatives to get the word to potential parents on all islands.
The organization also could use help from the community at large. Schools, businesses and other groups can play a part by hosting presentations on fostering, to get the word out and keep the recruitment momentum going.
Teens, sibling groups and children of Hawaiian descent are the groups most in need, officials said, but any promising candidate is urged to contact the hui (see box).
The training takes time and commitment, but that investment produces the best result: parents prepared to open their hearts and children who now can hope for happier futures.