NEWPORT — The Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) celebrated local foster parents and the difference they make in children’s lives on Saturday by hosting a fun party for their families.
The get-together, which featured bounce houses and a performance by magician Dylan Tenney, is an annual tradition. This year’s event took place at the Newport Recreation Center.
May was National Foster Care Month, and Saturday’s party was to honor all those in the DCYF catchment area that serves Sullivan County and lower Grafton County.
“We really want to show appreciation for all the foster parents we have,” said DCYF Resource Worker Kaitlin Bartley, who was the primary organizer of the event.
“It’s a time to come together with the community and show support for them.”
Elaina Bergamini of Grafton and her foster child were among the attendees. Bergamini has been a foster parent for four years.
“Seeing the progress and transformation in a child when they have their needs met is so rewarding,” said Bergamini, before being rushed to the snack table by her foster daughter.
Bergamini’s is one of the 24 licensed foster homes in the catchment area. Bartley reports that most of the homes are full.
When foster homes in a child’s geographic region are full, DCYF must place them out of district. That means changing schools, leaving friends and traveling long distances to complete visitations.
Greer Isaacs, another DCYF child protective service worker, estimates she spent $1,000 traveling just in May.
While there has long been a need for foster care, the opioid crisis has further strained the system.
The number of children in foster care in New Hampshire has more than doubled since 2014.
“There’s going to be a whole generation of kids whose parents died of drug overdoses,” explained Isaacs.
Giant Steps Forward
Despite the severity of the crisis, the party was an opportunity to recognize the giant steps forward taken by children and their foster care parents.
“It’s nice to see some of these kids here,” said Isaacs, “that I placed with their parents as babies and now they are 9 or 10 years old. It’s incredible.”
The party was also just plain fun for the children.
After getting a golden butterfly painted on her hand, Bergamini’s foster child swapped roles with the volunteer face painters and decorated their cheeks with colorful designs.
And the state is making progress, says DCYF Supervisor Ken Grillot. The legislature has allocated $1.3 million for 17 new positions in 2018.
Grillot credited that win to the hard work of DCYF Director Joe Ribsam, who was appointed to the agency in September.
But there’s still a need for more foster parents.
The agency employs a variety of recruiting strategies. Recent efforts included hosting an informational session for prospective foster and adoptive families at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord in April.
While candidates undergo rigorous screening and licensing, fostering is an inclusive process. Marital status, age, income and sexual orientation do not disqualify otherwise eligible applicants.
A partnership between DCYF and WMUR’s NH Chronicle has produced “Home at Last," an award-winning series on adoptive children searching for their forever families, to help increase public awareness.
The agency also relies on traditional print and radio advertisements.
Peggy Greco from Claremont encountered a flyer that advertised fostering 11 years ago. She and her husband have gone on to foster and to adopt several children.
“These kids are just amazing,” Greco said. “Sometimes I wake up and think, ‘How did I get so lucky?’”
Those interested in becoming foster parents are encouraged to visit dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/adoption/fosterparent.