Family of eight
Raising foster children a way of life

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 15/99) - Olin and Deanna Perry didn't plan to mimic the old Eight is Enough television show when they signed up to become foster parents six years ago. It just worked out that way.

Children need homes

The Yellowknife Health and Social Services Board is looking for a few good homes.

Foster care co-ordinator, Liz Jackson, said there are currently 40 foster homes in Yellowknife, which isn't enough.

"There's always a need for foster homes, especially aboriginal homes," Jackson said. "If we could get a list of homes approved, then we'd be in a situation to better match children to appropriate homes."

Yellowknife Foster Family Association executive director, Anne Kennedy, said that to become a foster family, a home study is done by Child Protection Services which includes a criminal records check, a physical and a reference check.

Kennedy said once foster parents have been approved, the association provides support and training.

"To those that are thinking about becoming foster parents, I can say it's a rewarding experience. It's an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the everyday lives of children," Kennedy said.

"These children come from all walks of life and not all are in care because of negative environments. For those children that do come from abusive situations, they soon learn trust and that benefits not just the child but the community as a whole."

It is Foster Family Week Oct. 17-24, and events have been planned throughout the week to celebrate. For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact the Yellowknife Foster Family Association or the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Board.

"When we started fostering, we had one child of our own. We thought we'd take in a foster child as a playmate," Olin said.

"As soon as we started the program with one child we got called two days later and were asked if we could take two more girls. They told us it would be a six-month term but the girls are still with us today."

Let's see now. That's one child of their own and three foster children. The Perry's have since had another child of their own. They accepted another boy from the foster program three years ago and he's still with them.

In April of this year they took in two more children who were in an emergency situation. That makes eight.

There's a shortage of foster parents in Yellowknife which is why there's six foster kids under the Perry's roof. When asked if taking in that many is taxing their patience, both Olin and Deanna laugh.

"At times it can get very tiring but the results after we've worked with a little boy or girl makes it all worth it. We extend love and they grow healthy from that. I'd say 90 per cent of the kids who come into care are just looking for hugs and kisses," Olin said.

Deanna says the children provide them with insights into life they couldn't find anywhere else. She loves what she does and doesn't feel she's given up anything to be a foster parent.

"I remember one Christmas morning we were having breakfast and one little guy asked if he could call us mom and dad," she said.

"I could see in his eyes it was important so I asked our daughter if it was OK. She said yes, she would be happy to share her mom and dad. That little boy is still with us."

She said they don't encourage foster children to call them parents, especially when it's short-term because it's confusing. But in this case, the boy was a permanent ward so they knew he'd be with them a long time.

"That happened three years ago but I still remember it as a special moment," Deanna said.

As for the future, the Perrys say the foster program has become a way of life. Olin hopes by talking about their experiences, more foster families will come forward.

"If you're the type of person that likes going out on the town and riding around in a two-seater Porsche, maybe fostering isn't for you," he said.

"But for me, staying at home with the family is where it's at."