MNA nurses know the joys and sorrows of foster care
Need for medical foster homes at all time high
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2008 Edition
By Sharon Nery
Five years ago, Carminda Jimenez worked full-time as a school nurse, part-time as a home care nurse and had two biological children. Busy as both she and her husband were, when her mother—a foster care parent for many years—went on vacation, Jimenez didn’t blink an eye when asked to take care of a small boy with large disabilities.
"I ended up keeping him for three years," said Jimenez, an MNA member and Southeast Region Nurse for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Social Services.
It was a trio of years filled with love and challenges, particularly when Jimenez discovered that her foster son was afflicted with Fragile X, a genetic condition that can present itself in numerous ways, including learning disabilities and characteristic physical and behavioral features.
"The DSS was very supportive and put in place services that allowed us to keep this child in our home," said Jimenez, noting the need for "medical foster homes."
"Nurses who are foster parents really get it—they know what to look for and how to navigate the medical system to get what is needed," she said. "And as RNs we know how to manage–it's like being on a hospital floor, taking care of several patients, doling out medications, answering call bells. We know how to get things done."
With 8,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts due to abuse and/or neglect and an additional 13 children entering the program daily, the need for foster families has never been greater—and in particular for families where there is a professional health care provider.
"It is 100 times harder to place a foster child when there are medical issues," said Jimenez. "But as more people become aware of the need for medical foster homes, more of those children will have a chance to thrive and grow in a positive atmosphere."
Elaine Goldrick, adoption and foster care recruitment supervisor for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services said the difficulty placing children from infancy through adolescence is enormous.
"A shortage of foster families means children coming into care may move night to night until a suitable foster care placement is found," said Goldrick. "The need for foster parents who are health care providers is enormous; they know firsthand the traumatic impact of abuse and neglect on a child because they encounter it on a regular basis in their professional roles."
Sue Madden concurs with that assessment, describing her past 15 years as a foster parent as both "heart warming and heart wrenching."
An MNA member who works in orthopaedics at Jordan Hospital and in pediatrics for a home care agency, Madden and her family have opened their home to more than 50 foster children since 1993.
"We are in the process of adopting two brothers," said Madden, noting that while the challenges have been many over the years as a foster parent, so have the rewards.
"These children come from different, often violent backgrounds and while your first reaction is a desire to save every child, you learn quickly that is not an attainable goal," she said.
"You come to learn that expectations must be redefined and that the most you can do is to show these children a different path."
"When you become a foster parent you provide a chance for a child to live a different life—one free of violence, drugs and neglect," said Madden, who earlier this year participated in the MNA Mercy Ships mission to Honduras. "Being part of this vital program has changed my life."
While many come from violent or abusive backgrounds, there are also a significant number of children and infants with more conventional upbringings who for any number of reasons are not easily placed, said Goldrick.
"Many nurses have the skills and expertise to foster parent our medically involved children, but they may also have demanding nursing jobs and their own family responsibilities to balance," said Goldrick. "However, nurses as caregivers have so much to offer all our children who need foster care, and there many ways in which they can help a child in need."
Nurses who can't be foster parents due to their own busy lives can also help in different ways; providing entrée for recruitment at their workplace and through other professional affiliations, for example.
To learn more about the Massachusetts DSS Foster Parent program, call 800.KIDS.508 or visit dsskids.org.