Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition, conducts a Zoom interview in September 2021. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s Foster Family Coalition launched a search for new caregivers in a bid to keep youth in the North, promising an improved support network for people who come forward.
Tammy Roberts, the coalition’s executive director, told Cabin Radio the organization needs to find at least three homes for children described by the group as having “higher needs.”
Roberts said the coalition hoped local residents would step forward to become therapeutic caregivers, avoiding an outcome in which the children in question would have to be relocated to southern Canada.
“What’s going to be different about this,” said Roberts, “is we’re going to partner with a place down south that’s going to provide us with the skills and resources we need to properly support those homes – help us with training, with access to some services online that we have been challenged with getting here locally, just to keep those kids in the North.
“Kids that are younger are usually sent south because there’s nobody here to care for them. And there’s nobody here to care for them because we don’t have the skills. So we’re really going to work hard to support these homes and support people to keep the kids in the North.”
Roberts acknowledged that while training and support exists for NWT foster parents, often “it’s not a lot.”
What makes therapeutic caregiving different, she said, is the level of skill and training required that is specific to the child in need of care.
“Each child, we’re going to try to look at them as a unique person and try to wrap the services around them to support that child and the person caring for them,” Roberts said.
The usual screening process, involving a criminal record check, applies.
Roberts said the fresh drive to find new homes and keep youth in the North was in part based on her own experience.
“I’ve been a caregiver for a long time, and been in a position myself where I had to look outside my home for resources to meet the needs of one of my children. Unfortunately, that was not available here,” she said.
“My child had to go south for treatment, which, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think helped at all. Taking children away from their community, away from their family, away from their friends, away from their school, causes more damage than anything.
“The safest place for our children to stay is in our communities.”
The coalition says the supports available will include “guaranteed relief” for therapeutic caregivers and backup from a pool of respite workers that has grown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the coalition will hold a “job fair” on October 1 from 3:30pm until 6:30pm at its 5125 50 Street building for people interested in becoming respite workers, providing a regular foster home, or providing a therapeutic foster home.
“I know there are people here who have the skills that these children need,” said Roberts, “and I can guarantee them that the support will be there.
“This is something, as a pilot, that we want to do – and we want to do a really good job of it. Because the bottom line is these kids, right?
“They deserve to be at home and they don’t need to go any place else. We can do this, right here in the North.”