TORONTO — Jewish Family & Child is desperately seeking Jewish families to take in foster children, says Sheryl Ederman, a supervisor in child-care services.
“We have a crisis in terms of Jewish kids needing homes,” she said.
The agency currently has 35 foster families in the Greater Toronto Area, but that is not enough to provide temporary shelter to all the Jewish children coming to care, she said.
They are looking for families “of all kinds. We need families who are great with toddlers or teenagers, and families who are great with special needs kids.
“We need weekend families, holiday families, families who will open their homes on Shabbat, and general respite families. This means if a family can give only two weekends a month, then we may have a need for a child who requires respite from another foster home on a regular basis.
“We need people – they can be single or single parents, and stay-at-home or working – who have an open heart and the ability to care for kids. They have to be kind and caring, but they do not have to have previous training; we provide families with a training program.”
Kids come from all parts of the community, Ederman said, so they are looking for prospective parents from a variety of backgrounds.
She said that their families struggle with, among other things, stress, poverty, addiction or mental health problems, and when children come into the agency’s care, there are serious concerns about their safety and protection. “Once [they are] in our care, every effort is made to return children to their own families.”
The agency once received a call from a hospital, Ederman said, because a mother was admitted with depression, and there was no one at home for her 11-year-old daughter. “We placed the girl in a foster home until the mother was discharged and we made plans for the girl’s safety. The girl still has contact with her foster family for occasional ongoing support.”
A nine-year-old boy who had been in their care had been left home alone day after day while his parents worked.
“They left food on the table, and the child was responsible for getting himself up, eating and going to school. There was no emergency number available, and the child was minimally able to manage in an emergency situation. He was placed in a foster home until an assessment was made, and safety plans were developed to protect the child.”
An emergency situation arose recently, Ederman said, when a child in foster care left the home because she was unhappy there. “We need to keep her in the Jewish community, but we don’t have another home for her. If we had more resources, we could service the child better.”
Her biological mother brought the girl in, she said, and they made arrangements to put temporary extra support in the foster home while the girl is awake. “We’re not sure what the next step is. We can’t leave the child with her mother and we have no more resources. We’d love to have a list of foster families, but we don’t have one.”
Howard Hurwitz, director of children’s services, said kids come into care because, for all kinds of reasons, they can’t live at home. “We have kids with a range of needs, and we try to pair children with more needs with a family who can handle them.
“Our goal is to have foster homes in every area of the city. We try hard to keep kids in their own community so they can continue in their local school, synagogue or community centre.”
As a result of the crisis, he said, they have kids living in group homes outside of their own communities. “I hate to see that happen because it uproots a Jewish child from the Jewish community. They live with non-Jewish caregivers and have non-Jewish friends.
“We do what we can to help them live Jewishly, but these kids still feel isolated. Living in a Jewish foster home is the ideal situation.”
He is “troubled” that the community is not responding to the agency’s needs, he said. “We are looking for 10 families who can step up to the challenge of opening up their home, and working with us to support a child in our community.”
The community is “fabulous in supporting a variety of causes, but we’re struggling to get people to give their time. We need people to care about these kids.
“Our foster families have told us that fostering has positively changed their lives, the lives of their family and the lives of the foster children.”
Hurwitz said they are willing to come out and talk to prospective foster parents about fostering, and will also speak at Jewish organizations and service clubs.
“We provide financial support and support in working with the kids. These are kids of our Jewish community, and we all have a responsibility to help out. We want them to grow up and take care of themselves.”
For information, call Sheryl Ederman at 416-638-7800, ext. 241.