Foster families desperately needed in rural Alberta
Lack of foster homes sees Bow Valley children placed with Calgary families
There is an urgent need for foster parents in rural areas of the province as officials struggle to deal with a lack of families available to care for children in need.
Right now, children in areas like Bow Valley who need fostering are being placed in Calgary. That kind of drastic environment change can add stress to children who are already vulnerable, officials say.
"They're hurt, they're scared, they're not with their families so they've been through some sort of trauma in order to bring them to this program," said Sue O'Keefe, a foster care recruiter with the Calgary and District Foster Parents' Association.
"A small town means a certain lifestyle for kids and for some kids, that's all they've ever known."
Representatives from the association are touring rural towns trying to encourage people to become foster parents.
A lot of the work involves answering questions and helping people understand the roles and responsibilities of being a foster parent.
"They don't have a mom and dad at the moment," said foster parent Lee Angele. "You are their mom and dad."
Joys and challenges for foster families
Lee and his wife Heather Angeles have four foster children in addition to their three biological kids.
With such a full house, the joys of parenting have been tempered with challenges as well.
"Our last 13 years have been, I suppose, roller-coasters," Heather said. "Great, great joys with many kids and some downs as well, some sad things."
It's those great joys that keeps them inspired to continue fostering kids in need, the family says.
"Hopefully when they leave they'll go back to their biological parents and things will be better for them and they'll have good memories of our home."
Who can foster?
In Alberta, foster parents need to be at least 18-years-old and can be either gender.
They can be married, single, divorced or widows and come from all cultural backgrounds.
The government provides training and support for foster parents, while groups like the Calgary and District Foster Parent Association organize general meetings, social gatherings and training sessions for families seeking ongoing support.
Foster families don't have to be located in small towns but officials say ideally, they want to place children in environments similar to those they know.
For children raised in rural environments, the adjustment to an urban locale can be traumatic and that's why O'Keefe is out recruiting in small towns.
"We all know a small town community is definitely different than a large city," said O'Keefe. "We want to be able to maintain that for kids."
For families like the Angeles, the desire to help children in need outweighs the challenges of a large family.
"We have such a high need in our own community," said Heather. "We need to start at home first."