BESSEMER— Jane and Mark Bale have been providing foster care for 32 years, in addition to raising two daughters, now aged 30 and 27.
This May they took on a new task for the state of Michigan, recruiting and retaining foster families in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. There are 650,000 children in foster care in the U.S., said Mark Bale.
To become foster parents, people must undergo 24 hours of training, as well as have their homes pass inspections by the department of human services for safety and size. “But you can’t measure for heart,” Mark said.
Over the years, the Bales have fostered over 40 children. Currently, there are 19 licensed foster homes in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, and some of those are families licensed to foster relatives only. Four more are in the process of becoming licensed.
There is a very strong need for respite foster care, Mark said. This entails fostering a child for a short time, such as a half of a day up to a couple days. “Foster families that do this might never know what that short time meant to the child,” he added.
Each foster home has its own strengths, said Jane. It’s important to match a child, or children, with a family that is a good fit. Otherwise, if a child has to move to another foster home, it just starts the trauma cycle over again, she said. There isn’t one particular type of family that would qualify to help children in this way. “If you have the heart for it and want to do it, go ahead,” said Mark.
Some families might choose to focus on certain age groups of children, like infants or teenagers. There is also a strong need for foster families able to foster siblings and children with special needs. Foster families willing to open their hearts and homes will find their niche, Jane said.
The number one goal for the biological family is reunification, said Jane. If that family becomes healthy, it helps the whole community become healthy. More kids go home than get adopted or stay in place, Mark said. If children can’t be reunited with their parents, the courts look for a relative, then at their foster families.
As a foster parent, one does start grieving as soon as a child comes, Jane said, but if a foster family can understand how the children came to your home, you can let them go, said Mark. It is an intervention for the family, and when that has been fulfilled, their lives go on, Mark said. Letting go and grieving is a part of foster care. “But if you never say yes, you don’t know what blessings you may have missed,” he added.
Children were previously placed with foster families for a year and a half, but now, they are placed for a year initially, Jane said.
“Different things can happen, you have to be prepared for surprises,” Mark said. Years ago, bonding and attachment between foster parents and children was not encouraged, but these days it is, because it has been found to be more beneficial for the children, said Jane. Bonding helps the synapses in the child’s growing brain to develop, and when they go back to their family, they have that development in place.
One thing many new foster families do not expect is that no matter what was going on in their home, some children still want to go home at first. One parent told Jane, “I didn’t think that the kids wouldn’t want to be here.” This is because the children are usually attached to their biological family, and the crisis that led them to be placed in a foster family means that they are losing their identity, own room and possessions, and may have to switch schools, too, Mark said.
Fostering can be heart-wrenching, said Jane, as sometimes the foster home is the first time children have had regular meals, heard I love you, and known that “their back is covered.”
The Bales are looking forward to help other foster families by providing training, as well as support, Mark said. “It really is a calling to do what your community needs. Will you answer the call or be fearful?” he asked.
For more information, contact the Bales at 906-663-0041, or Gogebic/Iron/Ontonagon department of human services at 906-663-6200.