Valley Journal – by Mary Auld- 9/12/2018
In many ways, Joel McClanahan of Lolo is a typical proud parent.
“We have an amazing kid,” he said as he introduced himself.
While this affection is characteristic of many families, the situation by which McClanahan’s family came together is fairly unique.
McClanahan is a foster parent. His foster son was 16 when they met in April. McClanahan became a foster parent through Youth Dynamics, a nonprofit child-placing agency that matches foster children to foster families and provides mental health support for families in the foster system in Montana.
Over 4,000 children receive care through the state’s foster system, according to Andrea Raulston. Raulston is a family development and community outreach coordinator at Youth Dynamics. Most children are in the foster system because they have been neglected or have parents who suffer from addiction. The number of children in need of foster families is far greater than the number of licensed foster families, Raulston added.
“Every week we get 10 to 20 new referrals for kids who need placement,” she said.
Youth Dynamics has matched several families in Lake County with foster children. The organization is looking for more people in the area who are interested in becoming foster parents.
“Our goal is to build strong foster families to make a difference in Montana,” Raulston said.
She explained that foster care is the best option for children who have been removed from their families. Placement in a foster home gives a child the opportunity to form positive attachments to adult caregivers. Foster parents can teach their foster children life skills and help them navigate their reactions to their past.
McClanahan was familiar with the concept of fostering because he grew up with foster siblings. Both McClanahan and his husband were interested in having their own foster children because they wanted to be parents. They wanted to use their own experiences with the challenges of being a same-sex couple to support a foster child who might face similar obstacles.
Raulston agreed that experiences overcoming adversity often translate into skills that make a supportive, understanding foster parent. “If foster parents have themselves been through a difficult thing and overcome it those families are really great because they can relate to the child,” Raulston said.
Youth Dynamics focuses on supporting foster children and families to help children recover from past trauma. Trauma arises when children witness or are the victim of violence or neglect, and a large number of children in the foster system have experienced trauma. According to Raulston, more children in the foster care system have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than United States war veterans. Traumatic experiences can cause serious emotional and behavioral challenges.
In order to alleviate the impacts of trauma and build resiliency, Youth Dynamics provides therapy, mentorship, and individualized support to foster families and children. Foster families also receive a stipend to offset the costs of fostering.
McClanahan said that in the five months since he became a foster parent, he has seen his foster son grow and mature “into a fine young man.” McClanahan attributes this growth to the loving and accepting environment that he and his husband have provided.
“For the first time he’s been given the opportunity to express himself and be who he really is,” McClanahan said.
McClanahan pointed out that being a foster parent has enriched his life beyond fulfilling his desire to be a parent. He has learned to cook vegetarian meals because his foster son doesn’t eat meat.
The ultimate goal of the foster care system is to permanently reunite children with their original families. Before a child is returned to their family, the circumstances that caused the child to be removed must be alleviated. Some caregivers are required to complete drug treatment programs, and others must find more stable and healthy living situations. Raulston said that while the average placement in a foster home is one to two years, some children are unable to return to their families. In these cases, permanent caregivers must be found.
According to Raulston, successful foster parents come from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations. These include single parents, opposite and same-sex couples, renters, homeowners, those who already have children, and those who do not. The only restrictions are that foster parents must be older than 21 without a recent criminal history or a record with Child Protective Services.
“Anyone with an open heart and a safe home who has a calling to help a child should contact Youth Dynamics, ” Raulston said.
This article was originally published in the Valley Journal on September 12, 2018. The article was written by Mary Auld.
We would like to thank the Valley Journal for all of the work they put into getting the message out about the need for foster parents.