Thu | Feb 9, 2023

Couple revel in virtues of Christmas foster parenting

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2022 | 12:05 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Cornelia Yorke and her husband, Melvin Yorke.
Cornelia Yorke and her husband, Melvin Yorke.

Cornelia and Melvin Yorke formed an instant connection when they first met 10-year-old Sara* through the Child Protection and Family Services Agency’s (CPFSA) Take a Child Home for the Holiday programme in 2019.

During the brief time that the youngster spent with their family, she soon began to refer to Cornelia as ‘Mommy’, suggesting that she felt at ease around her and within the home.

Although they had been taking part in the programme since 2016, as they try to help some of the nation’s most vulnerable children, the couple, who have been married for 14 years, had no intention of adopting a child.

But Sara* captured their hearts and they have been fostering her ever since they first met her. They are now finalising her adoption.

“Kids do not necessarily remember toys and those stuff, but they will never forget an experience of love,” Cornelia told The Gleaner in an interview.

Given the range of challenges children face in state homes, the couple said that showing them a little more love and care during the festive season was the least they could do, if even just for the few days allowed under the programme.

With two biological children, ages 10 and four years old, the couple said it was not difficult to introduce another child into their family, though it was originally intended to be done temporarily.

Speaking of her older daughter, Cornelia said that she was “one of the kindest human beings you’ll ever meet in your lifetime because it was as if she just made everything easy”, noting that she loves to share and had also developed a passion for helping others.

“Even if I went to her today and said we’re taking two more kids, I don’t think she would make a fuss out of it ... . She makes it easy,” the mom added.

She said it is important for parents to teach their children the value of giving back from an early age, so they can grow with an awareness of the less fortunate children and other individuals in society and seek to help them.

The family also carries out outreach activities by buying food items and donating them to people in need.

“We also ask them (the children) to help in the distribution so they understand that, when you have been given the opportunity to be a blessing to somebody else, you should never pass up that opportunity,” Cornelia said.

Although they will be unable to participate in the Take a Child Home for the Holiday programme this year, they still intend to make a donation to a children’s home.

Cornelia is urging other adults to get involved and help in making a child feel loved and cared for, particularly around the holiday season, as it was an experience which brought out a “feeling [that] cannot be explained”.

The Take a Child Home for the Holiday initiative, which has existed for more than a decade and benefits children between three and 18 years old, has seen an increase in its popularity over the Christmas holidays.

The annual initiative has also served as a recruitment pool for prospective foster parents, as some families seek to extend their relationship with the children they meet.

The COVID-19 pandemic had caused the programme to be suspended for two years, leading to the creation of the Grant a Wish programme, which solicits participation from the public to fulfil the Christmas wishes of children in residential facilities. It is also open to persons living abroad wishing to contribute, who can visit to view the children’s wish lists, which usually include toys, books, care packages, clothing, gadgets, and other items.

This year, the Take a Child Home for the Holiday is back and applications are open until 3 p.m. on December 9.

Carlyn Stewart, the CPFSA’s northeast regional director, told The Gleaner that the agency tries to ensure that, each year, all children feel remembered and loved during this special season.

She said that both programmes are designed to help the children remember how unique and special they are “and for us as an agency, not focussing on their circumstances or what brought them into state care, but to try our best as we can to give them as much as a normal upbringing as much as we can”.

Stewart noted that the programmes have been successful over the years, as many Jamaicans and private sector companies have shown interest in giving back to the children.

“This year, we are really trying to revamp, and people are excited just to give back, if it’s even on a small scale,” she said.

She said that background checks are done on the adults caring for the children over the holidays, and occupants of the home are interviewed before the children are sent.

“So, we ask that you allow us to speak to other members of your family. If there are children, they, too, have a voice [as we consider] if this is something they would enjoy and if they understand what this means,” she said.

Community visits and home assessments are also conducted.

*Name changed to protect identity of the child.

What is foster care?

Foster care is designed at providing a safe family environment for children up to age 18, who have become wards of the state due to being abused, orphaned, abandoned or neglected or whose parents relatives or guardians can no longer care for them.

It is a legal process that allows non-biological parents to provide this kind of stable environment where the child will be loved and can receive individual attention, as opposed to residential care, in which a child is placed in a government or private children’s home where facilities and care are communal.

There are more than 4,470 children currently in state care.

Jamaica has a total of 49 children’s homes, 41 of which are privately operated and the remainder managed by the Government.

Becoming a foster parent

The requirements and process of selection, vetting and approval of becoming a foster parent involves:

• Must be a responsible adult in good legal standing between the ages of 25 and 65 years and exhibits good parental qualities. Consideration is given to persons over 65 years if the individual is a relative of the child.

• A single individual or a married couple can be a foster parent(s). Placement with a single man is only done if the applicant is related to the child or in exceptional circumstances.

• Must have suitable accommodation for a child, taking into consideration the community on a whole.

• Must be gainfully employed or have a steady income.

• Must be willing to undergo a medical examination.

• Must provide two references from a notaries public, along with two passport-size photographs, and submit a police record.

• Must agree to a home visit and follow-up assessments conducted by a children’s officer to assess the environment in which the child will be residing.