Agency supporting at-risk children and families cites "significant need" for more foster care homes
On any given day, there are hundreds of children in foster care in Erie County. Agencies providing support to those families say there is a “significant need" for more foster homes locally.
Molly Lalich of Lockport has been fostering children for 18 years.
“I just, I love kids,” says Lalich. “I’m retired now so I get to really enjoy them. It’s hard being a working mom. I did that for a lot of years and now I can just be a mom.”
Lalich started as a single mom with three grown children of her own.
“I always wanted lots of kids,” recalls Lalich. “I always wanted about 12 kids but I had three. I ended up divorced. I happened to see an article in a paper one day and I said, Oh I can have more kids. So, that’s when I started doing foster care.”
Molly has since fostered so many kids, she’s lost count. Those include several she adopted, two teenage girls who are now in their twenties and two boys, now 12-and-13-years-old. Molly’s also currently in line to adopt three younger boys which she has been fostering.
“It’s a great feeling,” says Lalich. “To me, I get more than the children get. I get to feel good because I have these little kids that smile and say I love you at night when you tuck them in. How nice. You get to spend a little money on a child, buying them some clothes and they’re excited because they’ve got something that they’ve picked out or they’ve got toys or they just feel safe.”
Molly is one of 78 foster homes G.A. Family Services relies on when a child is in need.G.A. Family Services offers programs for at risk children and their families across Western New York with the goal of keeping families together. G.A. Director of Foster Care Ann Marie Orlowski says sometimes though all options are exhausted, and children need a temporary home - and sometimes that home becomes permanent.
“The families of the children are often dealing with challenges themselves,” says Orlowski. “It may be issues surrounding a lack of income, mental health or substance use that are impacting the family’s ability to care for their children. They’re children who are hurting, who have experienced trauma, who have grown up in circumstances that have affected their ability to perhaps have a consistence household, a safe household and a nurturing household.”
G.A. Program Manager Kristin Acker says there are hundreds of children in Erie County alone in need of foster homes. At issue though, is a "significant need" for foster parents willing to open their homes and their hearts.
“We have foster parents who are married, who are single,” notes Acker. “Some that are living with a partner, some that living alone. It would be important that a family demonstrate that they can meet the needs of a child. That could include being a working parent that could include a dynamic where a parent is staying at home.”
Potential foster parents must be at least 21 years of age, pass a background check and meet other safety standards. Candidates attend an 11 week training program and G.A. provides ongoing support once the process is complete. Orlowski says foster parents have the option of saying yes or no when a child needs a home. She adds G.A. is careful to ensure they've made a good match knowing the situation is a bit scary for the child involved.
“Our foster parents do a wonderful job engaging children as well as their families to say ‘What are you special foods that you like? What types of things are important to you? Tells us about what you brought with you today.’ Really helping to make having snacks available for them when they first come. Doing those special things that would help any of us to feel more comfortable being in a new situation and one that is scary for them.”
Molly says being a foster parent has both highs and lows. Overall though, she says it is truly a great experience for those who approach it the right way.
“It’s important that, if this is something you’re going to do, you can appreciate so much out of it if you’re patient and you take the time,” says Lalich. “You’ve got to be patient. It takes a long time to see the positiveness, not that you don’t see good things in the beginning, but you have to be patient. And, please if you’re going to do this, do it because you want to better a child’s life.”
If you're interested in becoming a foster parent, you can contact G.A. Family Services at (716) 674-4185.