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United Way of Westchester and Putnam, 2-1-1, Family Ties of Westchester, and Westchester County work together to recruit new foster parents during Foster Care Month
It’s National Foster Care Month and United Way of Westchester and Putnam, together with Family Ties of Westchester and Westchester County is encouraging residents to take action on behalf of the children in Westchester County’s foster care system.
Mount Vernon foster parent Denise Cleckley-Lillo remembers the moment that she decided to become a foster parent in 2009, shortly after her husband passed away.
“A newborn boy I knew was entering foster care in Westchester and I had a chance to hold him before he was taken away," said Cleckley-Lillo. "Looking into his eyes, I felt compelled to become a foster parent, because I knew that he deserved a second chance.”
Cleckley-Lillo also recalls meeting the two little girls that she recently adopted after caring for them over the past three years.
“They brought with them only a brown paper bag carrying a few clothing items and a coloring book," said Cleckley-Lillo. "My challenge was to help them trust me, to help them feel safe, and to help them accept my love. Each of our lives has been changed for the better.”
The need for foster parents is constant, said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino.
“Every child deserves to have a loving family,” he said. “And it works both ways: foster parents receive as much as they give.”
Currently, the county, through the Department of Social Services, has 200 foster parents, but new foster parents are always needed, particularly those who will provide a home to older children, babies, and sibling groups.
Siblings often have to be split up in foster care since there are not enough homes that can accommodate multiple children, jeopardizing long-lasting relationships.
There are more than 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system nationwide. Each year, approximately 30,000 young adults – most at age 18 – leave the system without lifelong families and must fend for themselves in a weakened economy.
“It is imperative to get these kids on the right path to a successful future. That starts with a safe, loving home.” said Naomi Adler, CEO and President of United Way of Westchester and Putnam.
“We hope this reminder of Foster Care Month will inspire more people to call United Way’s 2-1-1. Foster parents can be such a positive influence in a struggling child’s life.”
Dr. Jim Bostic, Executive Director of the Nepperhan Community Center in Yonkers, grew up in Westchester County as a foster child and was fortunate to find a forever family in the process.
“My biological mother was a teenager when she gave birth to me and she placed me in the foster care system when I was only 2-weeks-old,” Bostic explains.
He was immediately taken in by a loving family with three of their own children and two other foster children and remained with the family throughout his entire childhood.
Bostic shares that he was treated as if he had been born to them and credits his foster parents with saving his life.
“I don’t know where I would’ve ended up had it not been for them,” says Bostic, a former professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons. “Their love and support in my foster care experience was the driving force that led me to leave the sports world and go into business caring for children.”
United Way’s 2-1-1 call specialists are available to help prospective parents determine if they have the basic eligibility to become foster parents.
Callers are asked questions that will help make this determination, including: Will the child have a room with a window?
Once initial questions are answered, callers are asked to attend an orientation program facilitated by Family Ties of Westchester, a nonprofit organization offering support services, education, and advocacy to families of children with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric challenges.
Westchester County Department of Social Services contracts with Family Ties of Westchester to recruit, train, recommend for certification and support people interested in becoming foster and adoptive parents with Westchester County.
“You don’t have to be perfect to be a foster adoptive parent, but those who do it are very special," said Betty Mutschler, Associate Executive Director of Family Ties. “We are fully committed to ensuring that all foster parents receive the training and support that they need to be successful.”
Foster parents work as a team with social workers and other professionals to build a strong support system both for themselves and the foster child they are caring for.
“A foster parent is someone who wants to make a positive difference in the life of a child or a teen,” said DSS Commissioner Kevin M. McGuire. “We are looking for extraordinary caring people who can make room in their hearts and in their home to provide love and compassion to a child in care.”
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or have inquiries about the process, please call United Way’s 2-1-1.This free, confidential helpline is available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, in more than 200 languages.
About United Way of Westchester and Putnam
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, United Way of Westchester and Putnam operates with the fundamental belief that all people deserve a quality education, enough income to support a family, and opportunities for a healthy lifestyle. The not-for-profit organization works with agency partners, government, businesses and community leaders to solve problems that are too complex for any one entity alone.
All contributions go toward improving the education, income, and health of the children, youth and families throughout Westchester and Putnam. United Way’s Hudson Valley Region 2-1-1, covering Westchester and Putnam as well as Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties, answers up to 500 calls and 1,000 online inquiries per day ranging from tax, heating, and mortgage questions to childcare, basic needs, natural disaster and crisis calls.
United Way of Westchester and Putnam is located at 336 Central Park Ave., White Plains, NY 10606. They can be reached at 914-997-6700 or by visiting www.uwwp.org. Follow United Way on Facebook (www.facebook.com/UnitedWayWP) and Twitter (@UnitedWayWP) for the latest news and updates.
About Family Ties
Family Ties of Westchester is a grassroots organization that provides parent driven advocacy and support services to families of children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. At its five Resource Centers in Mount Vernon, Ossining, Peekskill, Portchester and Yonkers, Family Ties offers support groups, parent skills training, advocacy efforts, and respite opportunities.
Family Ties recognizes parents as full partners in planning for their children’s treatment and services and helps empower them to take part in the decision-making process.
All services are free and open to any family that needs support around their children’s needs. Family Ties works closely with all community partners, and particularly with Department of Social Services.
Family Ties as a family support agency is uniquely equipped to be supportive of all struggling families in the community and currently is proud to be working in collaboration with United Way 2-1-1 and DSS to provide recruitment, training,education, certification & support to prospective Foster and Adoptive Parents.
About Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS)
Westchester County DSS supports the family unit and community in many ways with a comprehensive and accredited Child Welfare Division. The DSS certifies foster and adoptive parents for children in foster care who need a loving home.
While the Department works diligently toward safety, permanency and well being for all Westchester children, children in foster care have a particular need. The Casework staff, Pediatric clinic and a variety of partnerships with many other community agencies are the means to obtaining the necessary services for children in foster care.
The Department makes provision for financial support via room and board payments, medical services and special reimbursements. The DSS Commissioner, Kevin M. McGuire, was recognized for his support to the United Way’s 211 earlier this year.
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