JCFS Chicago works to find caring, qualified foster parents for Chicago-area children with special needs, supporting the families who welcome, love and guide these children…whether toward reunification with their families or adoption by new families.
Right now, the need for foster parents is greater than ever with nearly 400,000 children and youth who need stability, mentoring, love and care. There is no ideal profile of a foster parent--the demographics are broad and include single adults or coupled partners—and while the challenges are very real, the experience is also rewarding for both child and foster parent. But what exactly are "special needs" and what should a prospective foster parent know? The following are some frequently asked questions about parenting a child with special needs:
Question: What is meant by “special needs”?
Answer: Special needs or ‘Spec” refers to a diagnosis where children and youth have been traumatized by different forms of abuse and neglect. They require therapy to help stabilize their emotions as well as develop coping and communication skills to better manage their behavior.
Question: What kinds of behaviors can I expect form my Foster Child?
Answer: Children are generally in Foster Care because of trauma in the family. As might be expected from someone who has experienced hurtful situations, the child may “act out” by being sad and/or shy, rather than “talk out” their feelings. They often have difficulty concentrating on school work. While the child may come across as difficult to please or does not express gratitude, please know that your important work as a Foster Parent could be their first experience with life stability.
Question: What are the most important things I can do as a Foster Parent to help stabilize a child in my care?
Answer: Foster children need caregivers who are good role models and active listeners. Foster parents need patience in teaching children to make good choices when confronted with difficult situations. It is important to be attentive, patient and consistent on following through with rules and expectations.
Question: What support can I expect if I decide to become a Foster Parent?
Answer: JCFS Chicago supports foster parents after placement and post adoption with home-based individual and family therapy, counseling, mentoring, crisis intervention and parent consultation. We provide ongoing training to prepare you for all kinds of situations. When you become licensed with JCFS Chicago you become part of the “Care Team.” The team consists of supervisors, therapists, case managers, a nurse, legal advocate and administrative support staff. You will have 24/7 access to your case manager.
Question: Do I get paid to become a Foster Parent?
Answer: The State provides subsidies for foster parenting, but it shouldn’t cause you financial sacrifice. That said, you should not decide to become a foster parent because you think it will help you financially; the challenges a foster parent faces and the commitment required to successfully parent a child with special needs are very real and disproportionate to any subsidy.
Nancy Dorfman-Schwartz, Director of Child Welfare Services, runs the Specialized Foster Care Program at JCFS Chicago, which places children and youth from birth to age 21 in foster homes. The program primarily serves those who have a higher degree of emotional, behavioral and/or medical problems, or who have a developmental and/or intellectual disability.
Each year, we show our appreciation for our foster parents by hosting a special event to recognize these amazing individuals. This year the Foster Care team of JCFS Chicago organized Game Night, a fun-filled evening of activities and prizes. Special thanks to Flowers for Dreams and Carol's Cookies for their generous donations of flower bouquets and desserts for the event.