By Joseph Robertia
Despite the best-laid plans, sometimes in life, things have a way of not working out as expected. For Soldotna resident Sherri Vickaryous, she thought after having her own kids she and her husband would be done with diapers and other related responsibilities of rearing children.
“We got, Rhianne, at 3 months old. And, Riley, at 5 years old, came along a month later,” she said, referring to the two children she fostered until last year when the adoption paperwork for the sisters was finalized and they legally became her children.
The kids were actually Vickaryous’ step-grand-children. Her husband’s daughter from another marriage gave birth to them, but due to personal problems was unable to raise them herself. She legally gave up her parental rights.
Now 6 and 10 years old, Vickaryous said it’s hard to imagine that, despite being the kids’ primary care providers for half a decade, until the adoption went through last year, she could have lost the kids had her husband passed away.
“He was the blood relative, but I was a step-parent, so we were afraid, legally, I could lose the kids if anything happened to him,” she said.
Vickaryous and her husband navigated the long road that was fostering and eventually adopting the children, and she said it was a confusing process at the start.
“We had no clue what to do,” she said.
For others who find themselves in a similar situation to Vickaryous, or just looking to assist a child in need, the state of Alaska Office of Children’s Services holds Resource Family Orientations the third Wednesday of each month to educate and inform people about how to provide foster care or work toward an adoption.
“We are always in need of foster homes across the Kenai Peninsula. The majority of the homes we have available are full at any given time, a difficult reality when needing to place even one child, let alone a large sibling group,” said Tonja Whitney, a community care licensing specialist at OCS.
More foster homes would better ensure that siblings may remain together, and that they could continue to live and attend school in their own communities.
“Ideally we would have enough foster homes available to ensure a successful match is made with every foster child placed, in a foster home located in their community of origin and that is equipped to handle their specific needs,” Whitney said. “We currently have only about 80 licensed foster homes for the entire Kenai Peninsula, which is just not enough to handle the need in this area.”
There are many reasons why a child could end up in foster care, and the placement is not always permanent.
“At times it is necessary to remove children from their homes to ensure their safety, at which time they are placed in out-of-home care, generally either with a relative or in a licensed foster home. OCS works toward reunifying these children safely with their families whenever possible. When reunification efforts are not successful, which is the case about 50 percent of the time, then an adoptive family is sought to provide a permanent home for a child,” Whitney said.
She added that, like in Vickaryous’ situation, most of the children who are adopted out of the foster care system, are adopted by their foster parents or their relatives.
Whitney said the problem of lacking foster homes often doesn’t stem from not enough people interested or willing, rather that people may think their situation isn’t “perfect enough” to be up to snuff with OCS for them to place a child.
“I think many people are interested in becoming foster parents, but may need more information to decide,” she said. “We are not looking for any one type of family. As a matter of fact, our current foster families are as diverse as the children who come into care, which is actually quite necessary when trying to make that successful, initial match.”
For more information on foster care or adoption, or upcoming Resource Family Orientations, people can contact Tonja Whitney or Mare Chambers at 283-3136.
There are also other paths available to those interested in adopting through the state of Alaska, and more information can be obtained through the Alaska Center for Resource Families at its website, http://www.acrf.org or by calling 1-800-478-7307.