'Like planting a tree': Sask. man talks 25 years of foster parenting

Cameron and Marian Nordin have fostered dozens of kids for 25 years, and they don't plan on stopping anytime soon. The couple is one of the few approved providers in the province which has seen a steady decline of existing families and new recruits.

Sask. foster family shortage persists: 270 more kids; 5 more approved providers during 1 year period

There were 5,131 children in care in Saskatchewan, up from 4,861 the previous year, and 505 approved care providers, according to Ministry of Social Services government data collected for a period ending June 30, 2017. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In Saskatchewan, the number of children in foster care continues to grow. 

There has been a consistent decline in the number of foster families throughout the years. However, the number of approved providers has gone up for the first time in five years, to 505 from 500, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Social Services. 

Count Cameron Nordin and his wife Marian among the 505. They've fostered children for 25 years, and won't stop until they're physically unable.

"It's all for them. It is not for us," Cameron Nordin said. "They need help and we just felt that this is one way we could help out."

The Nordins are an exception in a province that's struggled to retain and recruit foster parents.

He estimates they've had 70 children come through their home. They live on a farm near Oxbow, Sask., and have four adult children of their own who flew the nest long ago.

Cameron Nordin, 62, said he and his wife were thrown a new curve ball in fostering children: the online training, which Saskatchewan implemented in 2016. Nordin and his wife aren't computer savvy and lack a good internet connection in rural Saskatchewan, he said. (submitted by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba)

In 2016, the Ministry of Social Services said that over the previous four years, the number of foster homes in Saskatchewan had decreased by 35 per cent.

Other jurisdictions across Canada have experienced similar situations.  

In the past, Saskatchewan's foster care system has been criticized.

In 2015, the former children's advocate Bob Pringle said that the foster care system had been in a state of crisis for years, citing a loss of 250 families and that foster children had to stay in hotel rooms because there weren't other options. In 2009, Marvin Bernstein , the previous children's advocate, identified the system to be in crisis.

'Maybe we did make a difference'

Nordin said fostering youth is rewarding, and likens it to planting a tree. 

"When you first put it in the ground and it's only six inches high you wonder if there'll ever result in anything."

Then you see them when they're older, he said. They often keep in contact and send notes and photos on the holidays. 

"When they share memories of being at our place it makes you think, you know maybe we did make a difference in the lives of some children." 

Marian Nordin keeps bins that hold garments of every size and toys on hand, just in case there is a child of any age in need. (CBC)

Recently, they saw someone they housed nearly two decades ago while in Estevan, Sask. They learned she's now attending post-secondary with young ones of her own. 

"I'm still dad to her," Nordin said, chuckling. 

The couple is driven by their Christian faith, but for them what matters the most is that the kids feel secure and loved.

"Those two things are so necessary in the beginning life of a child."

Statistics show the number of children in care and the number of approved providers for a five-year period in Saskatchewan. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Currently, the Nordins live with 10-year-old twins — originally babies who were only supposed to be in the home for two weeks, stayed as foster children for four years and were then adopted into the family — and an 18-month-old foster baby. 

Nordin said the goodbyes are always unbearably hard, but it's positive to see a child go to a good home.

Fostering is not always an easy task, he said.

"It is a sacrifice of time, which we have and are still willing to give up." 

He said the most challenging part of fostering has been the frustration brought on by paperwork and policy. 

"That is enough to turn people off. A lot of people have a big heart, a big home and want to get at it, but the training..." he said. 

"It's necessary because there's always one bad apple in every basket, but the training that we have to go through —  even though it does set us up for situations — it is frustrating."

A graph illustrates the number of children in care in Saskatchewan from 2013 to 2017. (Government of Saskatchewan)