By Kaylynn Paynter
Jan. 16, 2014
There is a room with four white walls.
In the corner of the room there is a bed. Two chairs are placed directly beside the bed. Pale blue curtains cover the windows.
In this room, something joyous has happened.
The birth of a child has just taken place.
September 1, 2013, Summer Annaliese Elizabeth Lewis entered into the world.
Her mother, Francine, is holding her for the first time.
There is a room with four white walls.
In the corner of the room, there is a toy chest. A navy blue couch is pressed up against the wall beside the chest. Pale blue curtains cover the windows.
In this room, something sombre has happened.
The well being of a child has just been taken into consideration.
October 30, 2013, Summer Annaliese Elizabeth Lewis entered into the foster care system.
Her mother, Francine, is holding her for the last time.
Lewis was forced to make the tough decision to place her daughter in foster care after financial issues, and the stress of being a young, single mother began to affect the quality of her daughter’s life.
“Mommy’s doing what’s best for you. I love you baby girl,” she whispers.
Lewis, who has since been granted visitation rights with her daughter, travels to the public health centre in Summerside twice a week, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to spend time with her little girl.
She said the time is spent playing, cuddling and enjoying the simpler things in life.
Lewis knows the steps she must take if she wishes to regain full custody of her daughter.
“I’m going to get counseling, I’m going to be healthy, I’m going to be happy.” She tells herself this everyday.
These words have become her mantra.
With the support of Island Foster Care and her family by her side, Lewis plans to take action and have her daughter back by this coming September.
“It’s not going to be easy, but everything that I do, I do it because I want nothing more than to have my daughter back with me.”
Lewis takes comfort in knowing while she is working towards creating a better life for herself and her daughter, she will be safe in a stable home environment thanks to the foster care system.
A stable home environment provided by people like Donna Gillis, who was a dedicated foster parent for over a decade. Her home has served as a safe haven for children in need of a place to call home.
“I decided to become a foster parent 18 years ago. I was just starting my family and wanted to be a stay at home mom, at least until my kids hit school age. I thought it would be a great way to help out kids in need of a loving home environment,” said Gillis.
Gillis spent 11 years leaving a spot open in her family for anyone who needed it.
Gillis knew that becoming a foster parent would not come without its own challenges.
“The biggest challenge was having high needs kids in my home 24/7. A lot of them were used to living in a chaotic environment and didn’t know how to handle a more stable routine environment.”
But, for Gillis, the positive has always outweighed the negative.
“The best part of fostering was when we saw some of these kids improve because we could give them the attention, respect and love they needed. Most of them have gone on to live normal, happy lives.”
Even though being a foster parent can be a rewarding experience, it is not for everyone. Gillis has a bit of advice for anyone thinking about becoming a foster parent.
“Make sure you be realistic about becoming a foster parent and know what you’re getting yourself into. You need to be able to handle a lot of stress and work very closely with Social Services. When you agree to become a foster parent, your home is basically a revolving door for them and you need to be okay with that.”
Valerie Docherty, P.E.I.’s minister in charge of dealing directly with the Island’s foster care system, strongly encourages those who are interested in becoming foster parents to give it a chance. But with that, she also issues caution.
“We are always looking for people who are interested in becoming foster parents, but we realize it’s not for everybody. Especially in recent times, addiction and mental health issues have made it much harder on foster parents.”
But for those who feel they are up to the challenge, Docherty says their efforts will not go unrewarded.
“In all our lives there is always the not so good stuff, but when it comes to fostering a child, the good stuff always outweighs the bad. At the end of the day, these are the people who make a huge difference in a child’s life, because if you have a big heart, when you have even a little bit to give, it goes a long way.”
Foster care isn’t always the easiest department for Docherty to deal with. There are laughs, smiles and tears, sometimes all in the same day.
“When I spoke to the Foster Federation this past year around Halloween I realized how easily it is to take things for granted. Some of these kids didn’t know what Halloween was, they had never been trick-or-treating, simply because the home situation they were in didn’t allow it. Our foster parents are able to give these kids some sense of normality.”
The generous heart of a foster parent, like Gillis.
The selfless sacrifices for the benefit of a child, by a young mother, like Lewis.
The dedication and commitment to making lives easier for these children by people like Docherty and her colleagues.
These are all integral components of a successful foster care system.