Opinion: Need for foster care homes in St. Lawrence County continues to grow, DSS says
To the Editor:
Despite COVID-19, on most days you will find Heather Rand, Director of Child Protective Services at the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, behind her desk, participating in Zoom meetings and responding to e-mails as she continues to collaborate with a team of child welfare professionals who have transitioned to a partially remote work environment.When asked to weigh in on the current state of affairs, she mentions that “as incidents of alcohol and substance abuse, mental health concerns, and domestic violence increase across the country due to social isolation and COVID-19, child protective caseworkers face additional obstacles in helping to ensure that children and families are safe.
St. Lawrence County CPS staff continue work within the community to help mitigate the impact of the virus through a trauma-informed and collaborative perspective that emphasizes the families’ strengths and natural resources. The staff, children, and families of the county continue to demonstrate a tremendous amount of ingenuity and resilience in this difficult time.”
Those of us who have spent time in the North Country know we are a resilient lot. We see that resilience in our network of foster parents, community members, family members, volunteers, mentors, policy makers, child welfare and legal professionals, and other members of our community who help youth in foster care return home or find permanent homes and connections.
As May is National Foster Care Month, what better time to take a moment to celebrate our strength, despite all we are facing.
I asked Malissa Hale, program manager of Fostering Futures what she would say in recognition of National Foster Care Month. Malissa heads the St. Lawrence County Program that partners with the Department of Social Services, certifying many foster families in the county. Fostering Futures also employs case planners, supervisors, and office staff who ensure that birth and foster families are supported. Malissa shared insights from a few of our St. Lawrence County foster parents.
According to the Downing-Dukes, who have fostered for the past two years, “we might be temporary in their life. They might be temporary in ours. But there is nothing temporary about the love we have for these children! Sometimes the biological family needs time to get things in order or is going through a rough time in their lives. We can help them by taking care of the child and creating an open and honest relationship with the family, so together everyone can move forward.” Although fostering can be a challenge, the Millers echoed that “the best memories definitely outweigh the hard times any day.”
It is with the goal of moving forward and the difference that is made the lives of St. Lawrence County families that has motivated Heidi Soucis, Director of Foster Care, Preventive, and Adoption Services at the Department of Social Services, to continue to come to work for the past 30 years. Heidi oversees a team of case workers, supervisors, and support staff, in addition to a robust relative foster care program. Over the past few years, Heidi’s efforts have helped to realize an incredible increase in relative foster homes. When asked what she would say to acknowledge Foster Care Month, Heidi responds that she and her staff “recognize that foster parents in St. Lawrence County are vital in providing an emotional support to a child and their parents until the family can be reunited from the foster care system. Foster parents advocate 24/7 for the child’s needs while working with DSS, birth parents, school staff, and various community providers. The need for more foster homes throughout each town has continued to grow each year. Additional foster homes may allow a child in the foster care system to remain in their own community and school district while allowing a child a sense of normalcy and continued family connections while being apart from their family.”
Please take a moment this May to recognize a community member who makes a difference in children’s lives. Or attend the June informational session with Fostering Futures to hear more about fostering. I am thankful for the opportunity to highlight just a few of the hundreds of professionals, foster parents, and volunteers who devote much of their lives to children and families in St. Lawrence County.
Heather Wenzel, interim commissioner
St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services