Six months ago Westview Elementary School teacher Steve Boettger would not have thought he’d be trading in his eight-seater van for something larger, but then he also didn’t know that the number of children in his house would almost double either.
He and his wife Marie, who is a home support teacher for Heritage Christian Online School, have four children. Kaijah, 11, is their eldest. She has a younger sister, Abby, who is nine and two younger brothers—Isaac is seven and Caleb is four. Isaac and his sisters are home-schooled by their mother. The Boettger family is one of more than 3,100 foster families who open their hearts and their homes to just over 5,250 vulnerable children and youth in the province.
The ministry of children and family development (MCFD) is celebrating October as Foster Family Month in BC as a way to recognize and support the work of foster parents.
“Foster parents come from all walks of life,” wrote MCFD Minister Stephanie Cadieux in a media release. “They bring different experiences to their role and they have different reasons for doing the work they do, yet they all share one very important thing: they are ordinary people engaged in extraordinary acts of kindness. We are grateful for the work they do every day to improve the lives of young British Columbians.”
Whether they provide emergency, short- or long-term care, foster families play a crucial part in the lives of thousands of young British Columbians, said Cadieux.
“It’s an influence and a connection that can last a lifetime, a notion highlighted by the fact that more than one in three children in government care who are adopted are adopted by their foster family,” she added.
Since last April the Boettgers have been caring for two foster children.
“It can be a real blessing to add to the bunch,” said Marie.
Steve and Marie have close friends at their church who are foster parents and, over the years, they have witnessed the positive impact fostering has had on their friends’ family.
“Being teachers, we’ve seen a lot of kids who need a little extra love,” said Marie, who added that it was hard to pinpoint exactly when they decided to start fostering. “We recognized that there was more room in our hearts for children,” she said.
After their youngest son was born, Marie was not sure she would be able to have another child herself, so she and Steve began to investigate adopting and fostering.
About two years ago they approached the ministry to start the adoption process and were placed on the wait-list.
While they waited they also started going through the three- to six-month foster parent application process with the ministry that included providing personal references, a physician report and a criminal records review. Steve and Marie decided that if they were to have a foster child stay with them, they would prefer a child younger than their 11-year-old daughter.
The biggest challenge Steve said the family faced was not knowing what effect bringing foster children into the home would have on family.
“It was the unknown to me that was the huge thing,” he said. Some of their apprehension was abated though when they learned more about how MCFD tries to find the right fit for foster children and families.
Once the ministry has conducted its process, the families sign on and can begin working through the 53-hour BC Foster Care Education Program. This is a self-paced online course which helps families prepare for life as foster parents. The BC Federation of Foster Parent Associations also provides training to advance foster parents’ professional development.
The Boettgers initially agreed to taking on fostering for two-day respites, as they thought that would be a good way to ease into the life change.
Then everything changed last April when Marie discovered that she was pregnant.
“We did all this work [to prepare] and right away you’re off the list for adoption,” said Steve. “We thought that this was true for fostering as well.”
But a week later, they received the call that brought their first foster placement—two children.
“It was a big week,” said Steve. “We found out we were expecting and also that we’d have two extra little ones with us.”
At first they thought it would be for only a few days, but then the children’s stay was extended.
“They’re such neat kids,” said Steve. “Not without challenges though, but that’s parenting.”
Steve said the transition was at times difficult, but he had a lot of support from ministry social workers and his family.
Over the past six months Marie noted that “It’s not just us taking care of those children, our children also jumped right in. They take turns playing with the littlest one—they’re a real bunch of friends.”
With Marie expecting her fifth child in December, the family is taking every day as it comes.
“We’re committed to these two for sure,” said Marie. “As long as they need to be somewhere, we hope it’s with us.”
The Boettgers are one of about a dozen foster families in Powell River. Of those, there are only about three who can take placements, said Angela Skilbeck who works as a resource social worker for MCFD in Powell River. Skilbeck hopes to double that number.
“We’re in a bit of a crisis situation,” she added. “If we had a big influx of children who needed to come into care we’d have difficulty placing them. Obviously we want to place locally, that’s where their birth families and schools are. It’s not in the children’s best interests to move them out of the community.’
Skilbeck said the ministry attempts to place foster children in homes that are the best match. “Sometimes the child is best in a home without other children; sometimes religion is a factor and definitely culture,” she said. “We try to place first nations children with first nations families.”
When Skilbeck is notified by a social worker that there is a need for a foster placement she then goes and looks at the list of available homes.
“What we need is a much more extensive list to be able to go down to figure out which would be the best bed, instead of simply which bed is available,” she said.
While the ministry needs foster families for all age groups, teens, particularly boys, are currently the most difficult to place, she added.
She noted that some of the families in Powell River have been doing this for many years and are reaching retirement age.
“It’s a community responsibility to look after our own,” she said.