By Myron Love For the past eight years, Fay and Avrom Charach have been opening their home to Jewish children in our community who are in need of foster care.
“We had a child of our own at that time, but we were interested in adopting a second child,” Fay Charach recalls. “We approached Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) and while we were doing the paperwork, JCFS called and asked if we would consider taking in a newborn on a short-term basis, which turned out to be three months.”
Since then, Avrom and Fay have been foster parents to four other children – two of whom were also infants and two who were teenagers. They are currently fostering one of those babies.
“She was a premie, “ Fay notes. “She has been with us for 15 months now. We were excited to be able to celebrate her first birthday.”
Independent of JCFS, Fay and Avrom have also provided a home for a friend of their daughter. They welcomed her to their family four years ago when she was 17.
“Fay and Avrom are one of 11 welcoming foster families – not all of them Jewish – currently fostering for Jewish Child and Family Service,” reports Randee Pollock, the agency’s Adoption and Foster Care Coordinator.
“We currently have 14 children in foster care and two youth on extension of care,” she adds. “There was a time when we had as many as 30 children in care, but that number has steadily decreased due to children aging out of care, and the implementation of new strategies to collaborate more effectively with families.”
She points out that anyone interested in becoming a foster parent goes through a thorough assessment process that includes orientation, background security checks, contacting of references, a home inspection, and a home study. “Whenever possible, we try to place children with extended family members or with people whom they are acquainted with in their community.”
“We have to determine what arrangements the potential new foster parents are most comfortable with – be it taking in children for shorter periods of time or for an extended period. We also seek respite homes that can provide temporary or weekend care. JCFS ensures that foster parents receive a lot of support from the agency including advocacy and respite. Foster parents also receive financial support to help with the child’s maintenance.”
Of course, she notes, the ideal is to find a way for the children to either remain with their birth families with the support of JCFS or be reunited with them at some point in time. “If reunification isn’t successful or possible”, she says, “then we look for alternate long-term caregivers, ideally extended family members.”
“When situations arise with parents and their children that are too overwhelming and beyond their ability to cope, children may be deemed to be at risk and in need of a safer, more secure, more nurturing environment to ensure their safety and help them thrive. Foster care can provide that.”
As a Jewish agency, JCFS also ensures that Jewish children and youth in foster care, especially those who are living in non-Jewish homes, are integrated into the Jewish community, that they are able to observe and celebrate Jewish holidays, have an opportunity to attend Jewish day school and camps, and become involved in Jewish community activities such as BBYO and programs at the Rady Centre. JCFS also acknowledges, plans, and celebrates life cycle events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for children in care.
Avrom Charach adds that JCFS will also pay for lessons for foster children. “For example, one of the teens we welcomed into our home liked to play piano.” he notes. “JCFS paid for piano lessons for her.”
A historical problem in foster care was that once children turned 18, they aged out of care and could no longer access the supports of the child welfare system – often unprepared for independence and sometimes with unfortunate outcomes. Pollock is happy to report that this has changed and supports beyond age 18 are now available for permanent wards. Young adults can remain in their foster homes, with JCFS support, until the age of 21 if they are attending school or a work program. By age 16, JCFS begins the process of preparing youth for independent living so that they are ready to live on their own.
“It is incumbent on us as a Jewish community to look after our children and youth to the best of our ability,” Pollock observes. “JCFS welcomes the opportunity to work with families who are interested in fostering. There is always a need.”
“I would think that most people in our community don’t realize that there are Jewish children in need,” Fay observes.
“Being foster parents is a lot of work,” adds Avrom, “but it is a truly rewarding experience.”