On May 4th, therapeutic foster mom Maureen Lewis was welcomed by honks, cheers, and applause as she drove into the Doris Ison Health Center with her two foster children. After a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she smiled at the familiar faces waving back at her.
In honor of Foster Parent Appreciation Month, the staff at Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI) gathered in the parking lot with a tent full of self-care gifts for Lewis and the other 27 families served by the Specialized Therapeutic Foster Care Program. Typically an in-person luncheon, this year’s Foster Parent Appreciation event was held via a drive-through format to express gratitude and appreciation for CHI’s therapeutic foster parents, while complying with CDC guidelines.
“Some days are rough, and that day I felt appreciated so much,” Lewis said. “The cheering and clapping were very special for me. It showed me that I’m not working alone. CHI put a lot of effort into making sure that we understood that we are appreciated.”
Parents of the Specialized Therapeutic Foster Care Program, like Lewis, foster children with behavioral health issues and are trained to handle severe outbursts and trauma every day. What is already a challenging task was further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lewis did not have the option to work from home during lockdown. With the shortage of day care access for foster children, she had to use her vacation days in order to stay home with the kids. Many outdoor activities were also cancelled, and most therapeutic services that would normally be in-home were moved to telehealth.
“Being a foster parent is a 24/7 job, and many of these kids have been with five or more families,” said Maria Zuniga, head of the Specialized Therapeutic Foster Care Program.
Zuniga, who works with these foster parents day in and day out, was also at the Foster Appreciation Drive-Through. She said the impact that foster parents have is life-changing.
“The parents in our program are making sure that these kids don’t end up homeless or in the prison system. They are helping to break the cycle,” Zuniga said. “Our hope is that these kids can go to school, make a career, and create families of their own one day.”Despite the challenges they faced, CHI’s therapeutic foster parents persevered – a true testament to their dedication and unwavering love for the children they foster.