For children caught up in a range of dire circumstances, foster families offer hope, love and a safe home. Fostering plays a key role in protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Bermuda’s foster care programme is run by the government’s Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and led by Selena Simons, foster care coordinator. She heads a team of social workers, assistants and administrators. A child is moved into foster care by order of the Family Court,which bases its decision on the findings of investigations initiated by a referral. The wide-ranging reasons for such an order may include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or the lack of proper accommodation or nutrition.

The goal of the foster care process is to place each child in a safe home environment, while working with the birth parents to address the issues identified, with the aim of eventual reunification of the family. There are about 60 foster families in Bermuda and 53 children in foster care. “We would love to add at least another 20 foster parents to our list,” Simons adds. “In an emergency situation we have to be able to provide an immediate response.”

Those who work with young people—teachers, after-school care workers, counsellors, sports leaders, music teachers, nurses and those who work with the special-needs population, for example—often make ideal foster parents, says Simons. Their experience of children, tolerance and patience equip them well to care for youngsters often dealing with past traumas. “We’re looking to tap into this group to grow our foster parents list,” Simons says. “If you’re not a person in one of those categories, we offer training, both online and in-person, to help prepare people for fostering.”

Some foster parents are “empty nesters,” others have extra space or have been inspired by the positive fostering experiences of friends. Character references, medical checks and an assessment by a social worker are all part of the vetting process, as well as a safety assessment of the home where the children will stay by the Department of Health. Foster parents are also required to be certified by SCARS, the sexual abuse awareness charity.

Applicants have a preliminary chat with Simons. “Right off the bat, we like to hear what people’s preferences are in terms of age,” says Simons.

After a child is placed with a foster family, monitoring includes a monthly check at home by social workers, who also talk with the child separately outside the home. “We also ensure the children maintain regular contact with their birth families in a visit room at our offices,” Simons adds. The amount of time a child spends in the care of foster parents depends on the progress made by the birth parents’ therapy required under the Family Court order.

Foster Care Services provides financial support to foster parents. This includes a monthly food and toiletries allowance on an age-based scale; a four-times-a-year clothing allowance; and payments to providers of services including medical care, counselling, education and some extracurricular activities. Foster parents can also request supplemental funds for items and instances outside the scope of DCFS support from the Foster Parents Association of Bermuda, a registered charity.

Fostering can be greatly rewarding, says Simons. “Seeing children graduate from high school is one of the greatest rewards for our staff, who take great joy in attending graduations, or when we hear a child has been accepted into college. We also enjoy receiving positive feedback from school staff, specifically teachers and counsellors who often report of the progress children make once they’re settling into a foster family. We’re told that their behaviour improves, their social skills develop and they make academic progress.”

All person interested in learning more about Foster Care should contact the Foster Care Coordinator, Selena Simons at 294-5871 or email smsimons@gov.bm.