‘I start building trust with them from day one’
“The second I open my door, they are part of my family, so they know they have someone in their corner,” says Anna Miller about the 200 youth she estimates she has fostered over the past 36 years.
October is Foster Family Month in B.C., honouring British Columbians who step in to care for children and youth who, for many different reasons, are unable to live with their families on either a temporary or permanent basis.
Miller raised four of her own biological children and adopted Kathleen, the very first foster child she ever took in.
Miller says she was independent and responsible as a child but ended up in an abusive relationship for four years as a teenager. She says that experience was the catalyst that started her on the path to fostering teenage girls — she wanted to help protect them from what she went through.
Raising young girls can be tough, says Miller, but it’s rewarding to see them happy and accomplishing their goals.
“It’s been my whole life. Even before I was fostering, I was taking care of people, listening to them, caring for them,” says Miller. She emphasizes that these young girls come from all kinds of backgrounds, so when they are placed in her home, she doesn’t expect them to conform to her – she finds a way to adapt to them. “I let them become comfortable first and then I let them know I’m available to talk when they’re ready.”
It can be tough and awkward at first, Miller admits. “These kids don’t want to be in foster care and they often come from difficult and challenging circumstances.”
She typically has three or four girls in her home and says there are times, of course, when they don’t all get along. “I always tell them, ‘You don’t have to like everybody in the house, but you have to respect everybody.’ ”
As a level 3 caregiver, Miller is able to care for all youth, including those with higher support needs, like autism. And a lot has changed since she began fostering 36 years ago. Whereas in the past, she had limited support from the ministry, the process is now well organized with an application, orientation session, thorough home study and training to ensure foster caregivers are well prepared.
At the end of the day, Miller says it’s always about the kids. “They are going to make mistakes, but you’re there to help them learn. You open your heart and soul to them and show them through your example that there are people who care about them.”
Miller’s journey has come full circle and in a very personal way. Her daughter, Kathleen — the teenager she welcomed into her home in 1983 — adopted another of Miller’s former foster children, allowing her to welcome an extra special granddaughter in her family.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, visit: https://fosternow.gov.bc.ca/
- While the Ministry of Children and Family Development is providing greater supports to keep families together when it is safe to do so, resulting in fewer children coming into care in the first place, there is an ever-present need for skilled caregivers to care for children who cannot safely live with their parents.
- As of April 2019, government raised support payments to foster parents by an additional $179 per month to help cover the basic necessities for children in their care, including food, clothing and shelter — the first increase in 10 years.
- There are about 2,500 family-based foster homes in British Columbia. There is always a need for more to represent the diversity of children and youth in care in need of caregivers.
- On Sept. 31, 2018, there were 4,455 children and youth (3,018 Indigenous and 1,437 non-Indigenous) in foster care in B.C.
- There are fewer Indigenous children and youth in care now than at any time since 2014.
- Through the Extended Family Program, relatives can be supported to provide care for children and youth from their extended family to keep them in their communities and connected to important relationships and cultural heritage and practices.
BC Federation of Foster Parent Association: https://bcfosterparents.ca/
Indigenous Caregivers of BC: http://fostercaregiversbc.ca/
Call the fostering line: 1 800 663-9999
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