SUMMERSIDE – With more than 30 years in the social work field, Wendy McCourt has seen first-hand how the foster care system on P.E.I. has changed.
“When I started, we never had the need for youth homes for such young ages like six to 12,” she explained. “But what has changed is the demographic of foster parents. We’ve got older couples taking in children, couples where both parents are working so it may be difficult to give the child the full care required as well as challenges for younger families.”
McCourt is the director of child protection. Her position is with the legislative entity that runs P.E.I.’s foster care system.
“On any given day, there can be about 225 children in care, among the approximate 80 foster homes that are on the Island and five group homes with 34 beds amongst the five homes.”
“Foster homes can accommodate more than one child and of that 225, there could be sibling groups as well. We do try to arrange for siblings to be together.”
McCourt started her career as a frontline social worker, and while she says things haven’t changed by the way of recruitment of foster parents, the work they do with them and how children enter foster care and the way homes are assessed has changed.
Foster parents must undergo a series of training sessions and procedures to ensure the best quality of care for the children, she added.
“We are continually working with parents and group homes to enhance care. We are about to embark on a foster parent review of the whole program. Because things can change we want to stay current. We want to find where are the areas in our program that we may need to bring up to the quality we would expect today.”
McCourt says staying current isn’t difficult, but that it’s a matter a working together.
“If you think about parenting in general, there is always changes to what in society is acceptable and we want to ensure that we are acting as prudent parents and doing due diligence with the children we are tasked to be responsible for.”
Trauma informed care
In 2016 the P.E.I. foster care system began its journey with trauma informed care.
“It is a model that is being used within our residential and foster homes.”
It is a very child-focused model and research shows it has been a very successful tool, said McCourt.
“Trauma informed care is an approach that comes from a belief that every child is precious and is deserving of a safe and caring home. It assumes that at any moment a person is doing the best that they can. Rather than looking at what is ‘wrong’ with a child we look at understanding the trauma and impact they may have been subjected to.”
Foster parents must also attend monthly support meetings, which allow parents to collaborate and guide each other through their foster care experience and what areas need to be improved upon or altered.
McCourt said the government side of the foster care system is more active in the home than it has been in the past.
“We do our best to work collaboratively with the parents.”
She said the age groups of children in care ebbs and flows.
“Sometimes there is a period of time where there are more teenagers in care and looking for homes suitable for them. And then there may be a time where it’s actually younger children we’re looking to place.”
She continued, “At the end of the day I want the best for the children we take into care.”