Robert and Cindy LaBrecque have been foster parents for more than 40 years, but they have no plans to stop any time soon.
“As Cindy and I often joke, we now feel like we’re finally good at it,” Robert said. “We feel much more confident than we did 41 years ago.
“How do you stop doing something that you love?”
Right now, the LaBreques are fostering four teenagers as there’s a critical shortage of foster parents in Windsor and Essex County.
The shortage of foster families has prompted the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) to launch a new push to find foster families in the region, especially diverse families, ahead of PrideFest in Windsor next month.
“We really need foster parents that are representative of all populations in Ontario, right?,” said Rebecca Ross, the foster family recruiter and trainer for WECAS. “That’s inclusive of cultural, religious backgrounds, financial and marital status.
“We just want a real range of foster parents that are able to, you know, provide a stable, supportive or nurturing home environment for our children and youth in care.”
Windsor Morning8:35Foster Parent Need
Right now there are about 400 kids in the care of the Children’s Aid Society in Windsor-Essex, Ross said, and about 100 foster families — ideally each child would be the only one in a foster home, except siblings that WECAS tries to place together.
CAS will host an event for prospective foster families, especially LGBTQ families, on Aug. 3.
While the shortage of foster families, across the province, was evident before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ross said it didn’t help.
“During the pandemic, people weren’t quite as eager or open to opening their homes,” Ross said. “Once the pandemic kind of died down a little bit, in my opinion, people were then kind of getting their lives back on track.
“Since then, I feel like, you know, the economy may be a factor in play as well. Things are tight right now and I think people might be questioning, you know, the ability to bring children into their homes, despite the fact that there are financial supports in place for people who do want to foster.”
The LaBrecques also said it might be due to the tougher economic conditions facing young families now: Fewer have bought their own home or are in a position to expand their families, and many work extra jobs to make ends meet.
‘There’s so many rewards,’ Foster family says
The LaBrecques said they started fostering young, just weeks after their own honeymoon.
“We recognize the need from our own childhoods that young kids can run into some challenges that aren’t their own,” Robert said, noting the couple has professional experience with adults with complex needs.
Now, they’re what’s known as therapeutic foster parents, meaning they’re equipped to care for kids who also have complex needs.
Since then they’ve been home for more than 200 kids over 41 years: some for as little as six hours, some until they reach adulthood. They’ve been invited to weddings and happily told of their foster kids’ own children being born.
“I think what I love to tell people that are considering fostering or have dismissed fostering because they think it’s too hard: It is hard. It’s a very challenging endeavour, but it is not so challenging that it can’t be done, and done successfully and done with great enthusiasm and and and and longevity,” Robert said.
“There’s so many rewards over the course of the ups and downs of a journey like this. I can’t imagine not having done this in our lives and continuing to do it. It is truly the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Both the LaBrecques and Ross said people often imagine that foster families are in it alone, when that couldn’t be further from the truth: There’s training, both mandatory and optional, as well as a case worker assigned to assist foster parents and kids, and a local foster association parents can draw on for tips and advice.
And while WECAS is actively recruiting for foster families, Ross said the best scenario is working with families preventatively keep children in homes. From there, they’ll look at kinship options for safe adults who have relationships with the child before placing the child into foster care.
“That’s when we want to make sure that we have safe homes where we could make the best cultural or religious match possible,” she said.
“The bigger the pool of foster parents with a wider range of diversity, the better the matching can happen,” Ross said.
Ross said they’re looking for all types of stable and supportive homes, and prospective foster parents need to come from a place of stability in order to offer that to kids.
If someone’s really thinking about it, I would definitely say come forward, talk to us, have that conversation, let us know what it is that’s stopping you and we can kind of talk that out,” Ross said.
“We absolutely love it when people come and reach out to us and say, hey, I’ve been thinking about this, I’m not sure. If they’re not ready right now they might be ready six months, a year or two years, but we’re here to answer those questions.”