Milton residents Stacey and Victor Festa have been foster parents since 2009. Working with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, they provide transitional care for children up to three years old. Stacey Festa talked with columnist Julie Fay about her past foster children, and why her family, including daughters Gabrielle, 10, and Grace, 5, opens their home to kids in need.
How did you get involved with foster care?
I was a preschool teacher for ten years (Festa returned to work eight months ago as a teacher at the Learning Circle Preschool in Canton.) I left teaching when Gabrielle was a year old, and I felt I really wanted to help children more. I talked to my husband about it, and he was all for it, because his parents did foster care. He grew up with foster siblings.
What are the steps to becoming a foster parent?
I contacted the Department of Children and Families (formerly the Department of Social Services) and they had a recruitment person contact me. We took an eight-week training course and had a home visit, to be sure our home was suitable for foster care. A social worker also came to talk with us about why we wanted to become foster parents. We also needed to be fingerprinted to be sure we didn’t have a police record.
What was involved in the training?
They’re called MAPP (Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) trainings and they include what to expect from children, behavior you could see, why kids are in care, stages of grieving in children, early warning signs for abuse or neglect, competencies for supporting children’s development, etc. The goal of the foster care system is to reunify children with their parents, and they work hard to get that to happen. Our first two foster children were babies, both of whom went back to their parents.
What happens when a child need foster care?
I get a phone call (from DCF.) They can call any time, and just ask you, saying this is what we have; are you willing to take a child? We will take children up to age three. We have a very small house and we only have a crib that converts to a toddler bed. A foster child has to have her own room, so my girls share a bedroom and our playroom is the foster child’s room. We don’t have room for an older child (like a teenager) who needs her own space.
Families who take in foster children are provided a maximum of $19/day for their care. If the children are under age 5, they are covered by W.I.C. (the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program) and baby formula is also provided. All children get their medical and dental care covered by the state, and if you’re a working parent, the state pays for day care. There’s also a twice-yearly clothing allowance of $125, which Deval Patrick is trying to cut.
Tell me about your most recent foster child.
Symiah was with us for 17 months. She was nearly two and a half when she left us a few weeks ago, and she’s with an adoptive family now. Her mother lost her parental rights, and her father tried so hard to get her back but couldn’t do it, so he gave up his parental rights. Parents need to have a visit with their child every week to get their rights back, and some parents are better at that than others.
I feel like we did everything we could with Symiah because we had her for so long. We gave her the consistency of a good life and the gift of a loving home. There were a couple of times it was really difficult. She wasn’t the easiest child, but I felt like I really wanted to give her a good foundation. We all were really sad when she left, but we were happy too, because she ended up with really great people who have been waiting for five years to adopt. She’ll be all set for life in a really good home where she can go off to college and get everything she needs. She’ll be well taken care of.
What motivates you?
My son died in 2003 of Menkes Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. He was 16 months old. I love being with the little ones and I guess it’s (helping) one child at a time. I’d like to take a lot more but one at a time is all I can do.
I always thought after going through the death of my son and teaching preschool for so long I would have an easier time keeping children temporarily. I just think of it as they are not mine, and I am just taking care of them until they are ready to move on.
Anything else people should know?
There are a lot of children in Massachusetts that need help, and they really need more foster parents. A lot of people worry about getting too attached. They say, “Oh, I could never do that.” Well, someone needs to.
For more information about becoming a foster parent, click here.