PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s oldest child welfare agency has been helping pair children in the foster system with loving families for more than 135 years.
Certified foster parent Natalie Shin said when she and her husband became foster parents, that love was at the center of their decision.
“It definitely was a no-brainer. Yes, we absolutely want to open up our home and really show love to somebody that is desperate for it,” Shin said. “These kids, when they are in a safe environment where they feel loved and respected and that they matter; that shows in their personality in how they view themselves and then how they treat others.”
The couple started out by providing relief or respite care. Then came the chance to foster full-time for a teen whom they’d welcomed in before, a teen named Tyler.
“He’s just a loveable kid,” Shin said. "He is always trying to make people smile. He’s always cracking jokes. It was great to be matched with someone that we did connect so well with. Both we with him and him with us.”
He came into their home at 17 years old, just days away from adulthood.
“He was just really not ready to be out on his own yet," Shin said. "He was entering into his senior year of high school. Think of trying to live on your own and have a job and finish out high school. It’s a lot."
Boys & Girls Aid brought them together.
“We actually do today what we did 135 years ago, which is to ensure that children have a family to call their own,” Boys & Girls Aid President and CEO Suzan Huntington said. “We make sure that they have lifelong connections, relationships, people who are going to help them, support them, guide them.”
Huntington said the pandemic has had a profound impact on an already overburdened child welfare system.
There are more than 8,000 kids in Oregon’s foster care system on any given day and there are not simply not enough foster families to give them a safe and loving place to land.
In the Portland metro area alone, they’re more than 500 beds short, according to Huntington.
“So, we’re struggling, as an agency, to also find foster parents,” she said.
Along with the need for more foster parents, the switch to online learning has presented new challenges. Many kids in foster care move at a rate of three to four times a year, and that means three to four different schools.
Boys & Girls Aid isn’t receiving any extra assistance to help foster families with the distance learning transition, but that isn’t slowing down their support for kids and foster parents.
“Our staff, who are youth care councilors and social workers, are really trying to figure out how best to help them learn, keep them engaged, keep them focused and it’s been hard. It’s been really hard,” Huntington said.
Boys & Girls Aid wants to make sure kids find safe, loving homes and the right fit for each individual child’s needs.
“These kids are ready for somebody to come love them unconditionally and accept them for where they are and where they come from, and all those behaviors that come with it,” Huntington said.
“They’re so supportive and they’re just really there to make the experience not only good for the child, but for the foster parents as well,” Shin said.
Now at 19, Tyler is in the next phase of a DHS adult transition program. He’s off on his own to the next chapter in life, but thanks to fostering he’ll never be alone.
“I think that was probably one of the biggest rewards," Shin said. "To see not only him grow, but also how much he has impacted and touched our lives throughout the process.”
Shin said fostering comes with many challenges, but the rewards far outweigh the setbacks. Tyler is in the process of changing his last name.
The Shin family is expecting their first biological child soon. They plan to continue offering respite care and fostering again in the future.
Learn more about how you can get involved and boysandgirlsaid.org
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