New foster program provides high level of family support

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Jan. 29, 2013
Contributed
A new level of foster parenting seeks to move children from restrictive environments such as group homes and hospitals and put them into family situations. Contributed photos. - Contributed Photo

According to Rebecca Zukerman, Family and Community Ties Foster Care is a new program initiated in August by the state of Connecticut. Zukerman, who is the program director for FCT in Willimantic, was at a recent open house at Community Health Resources designed to introduce potential foster parents to the new program.

CHR is a private non-profit working with adults, children and families in “an array of issues from mental health to substance abuse and foster care,” according to an agency handout. The state has contracted with six agencies throughout Connecticut to implement the new FCT program, including CHR. CHR administers the program in region three (Norwich, Willimantic, Middletown), and is currently seeking foster homes in the communities of Windham, New London and Middlesex counties.

“This is the highest level of foster care ever offered in the state,” said Zukerman.

The FCT program allows CHR to collaborate with the Department of Children and Families to remove children from group homes or hospital settings. The goal is to place these children into more traditional family settings. FCT provides 24/7 support to foster families, as well as mental health and case management services. “What makes this program special are the additional supports that have been put in place,” said Zukerman. Supports include comprehensive training, round-the-clock therapeutic on-call staffing, generous tax-free financial stipends, and free medical coverage for all children involved in the program.

"These are children that are targeted at the highest level of need,” said Zukerman. The program requires a two-parent model, but Zukerman points out that the two-parent requirement is flexible. “It doesn’t have to be a traditional couple,” she said. “It could be a parent and a grandparent, even two best friends. The important thing is that there are two adults who will be responsible for the child’s care.” And, individuals who might be interested in fostering but don’t have a partner are encouraged to inquire. “We can help them to identify a parenting partner,” said Zukerman.

According to CHR, there are more than 7,000 children currently in the foster system in the state of Connecticut. Currently, there are just over 2,500 foster homes in the state. “What this means is that many children are placed out of state or separated from siblings, and on average change foster homes 2.9 times in an average of 2.8 years,” according to CHR literature. Children age out of the foster system at the age of 18. Many, having never lived in a family setting or having been shuffled around frequently, find themselves on their own with no connections to the community at large. This can lead to a high rate of homelessness and criminal activity. FCT aims to assist foster families in providing community connections for children, so that by the time they reach adulthood, they are not cast adrift. “The hope is that it will have a positive effect on the entire community,” said Zukerman.

Rebecca Hennessey, a marriage and family counselor who will provide therapeutic support for the Willimantic FCT program, pointed out that contacting the agency does not constitute a commitment. “They can come for the training to find out whether it would be a good fit,” she said. There are even opportunities to become involved with the program part-time, by providing respite assistance to full-time foster parents.

To learn more about FCT, contact 860-456-3215 ext. 119, 1-877-88-HELP1, or e-mail sgifford@chrhealth.org. There are informational meetings held every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m., and every second and fourth Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at CHR at 1491 West Main St., Willimantic.


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