“I’m the eighth of nine in a huge LDS family,” said David Beach, an openly gay foster/proctor parent. “I am single. I used to share a two-bedroom apartment with a friend. Prior to doing this work I had your typical carefree college bachelor life.”
Beach drives a bus for the Alpine Summit Program, a school for students in state custody or are otherwise at risk.
“One of my kids got on my bus saying they’d finally found his dad. I responded, ‘That’s awesome!’ He said, ‘Not really, he’s dead.’ He started crying and gave me a hug. After a few minutes, he asked me if I would adopt him. It knocked the wind out of me.”
Beach had already contacted Come About Youth Services in Pleasant Grove, asking about becoming a foster. He called that day and got the process going.
CAYS focuses on placing children up and down the Wasatch Front with emotional or behavioral issues.
“We have somewhat of a unique niche in Utah county as a non-LDS-based, very open-minded and non-judgmental agency,” said Sean Camp, clinical director. “As a result we get a lot of referrals of GLBTQ youth who have difficulty being served adequately in mainstream homes, LDS or otherwise.”
“When these youth are placed with individuals and families that are comfortable with their self-expression, sexual identity, or belief system, their depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. seem to clear up rather remarkably on their own,” Camp said. “Thus we are always looking for open-minded, non-traditional families to serve our youth.”
Jody Valdez of Stepping Stones Child Placement Agency in Salt Lake City is also seeking LGBT families to foster.
“We thought when gay marriage finally went through that we would have same-sex couples coming in looking to foster kids,” Valdez said. “But so far that hasn’t been the case.”
Valdez also has a number of LGBT kids to place and finds it difficult to put them in “traditional” homes.
“Your typical LDS family just doesn’t get these kids,” she said. “It’s amazing how positive role models can help in these kids’ lives.”
Fostering in Utah
Over 2,500 Utah children are in foster care. As a foster parent, you’re part of a team of child advocates dedicated to helping the child and, potentially, reunifying a child with their parents. Around 55 percent of children who enter foster care return to live with their birth parents or another relative.
The kids that CAYS and Stepping Stones work with, however, tend to “age out” of the system, becoming adults on their own once they reach legal age.
When reunification is not possible, the foster family can make the commitment to the child permanent by adopting. Over 550 children were adopted from foster care in Utah in 2014. Most were adopted by their foster parents.
Foster care organizations in the state contract with the Utah Department of Human Services to place displaced kids with foster families. They also offer support and guidance through the process with state and local agencies, and other experienced foster families.
Children in foster care come from all backgrounds – they’re Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, Native American, Asian, or Pacific Islander. They range in age from birth to 19 years. Some are boys, some are girls. Two-thirds of the children have a brother or sister in foster care with them and would benefit from staying together.
Becoming a Foster
Camp says the process for each organization can be different. At CAYS, it starts with by meeting their director.
“We then go to their home with a licensed social worker, inspect to ensure safety and adequate space,” he said. (State law requires 80 square feet of space in a single bedroom or 60 square feet per child in a shared bedroom.)
“We require three verbal and three written references from unrelated acquaintances, medical clearance and training through our organization,” Camp continued.
The state also requires criminal background checks.
Foster parents can own or rent their homes, can be married or single, though in Utah if you are living together as a couple, you must be legally married.
Families receive a nominal daily stipend to help cover the additional costs of raising the child, and the child is covered through Medicaid for health insurance.
A caseworker oversees the child’s care and helps get the child and family any services they may need.
“Becoming a foster/proctor parent is by far the best decision I have ever made” Beach said. “I’ve wanted to be a parent for as long as I can remember, and now that dream has become a reality. I currently have two awesome sons and have a couple kids that have moved on from our program who I keep in touch with. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else right now.” Q
CAYS can be reached at 801-899-2076. Stepping Stones can be reached at 801-349-0128.