On May 16 hundreds of families gathered at the imPossible Dream Playground in mutual support of a beneficial cause involving Rhode Island’s children. Foster Forward and the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families publicly recognized the foster families of Rhode Island at their annual foster family appreciation night.
Using unrestricted funds from Foster Forward’s budget, foster family appreciation night was free to attend and was tailored towards the entertainment and comfort of the foster children. The event featured face painting for the kids, buffet-style food and a plethora of donated toys and secondhand clothing for the families to bring home. An objective of appreciation night is raising public awareness. There are more than 2,000 children and youth in foster care in the state of Rhode Island, with 75 percent of foster teens living in group care rather than with individual foster families.
Lisa Guillette, executive director of Foster Forward, served as the event’s chief organizer. She noted a function of the night is the launch of Foster Forward’s new recruitment appeal, “A Family for Every Child.” The DCYF was given a federal grant, and as they partner with Foster Forward the recruitment appeal was a joint effort between the two organizations. The message of the new initiative targets potential foster parents, declaring, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” The recruitment plan also focuses on raising awareness about ways to help improve the lives and conditions of foster children.
“The first part of the initiative is the new message. The second thing is improving the vehicles that get that message out,” said Guillette. “We are hosting more public events, such as this one, and as a part of our campaign are publicly showing the documentary, ‘Ask us who we are’ on Saturday and Wednesday,” she added.
The final aspect of the initiative is the improvement of the parent-child matching process.
“We are doing more research, looking into the background of the kids, specifically into the father’s side of the family. Organizations will often focus on the mother’s side and will overlook the father’s entire extended family. There might be a grandparent there who is eager and willing to give the child a home,” said Guillette.
Peggy Derrick, the kinship grandmother of one foster child who had been removed from her parents twice before, said, “The goal is always reunification. Never be negative about the birth parents. Ever.” As a foster parent, the aim is to provide a loving, stable, nurturing environment for kids who have been removed from their home situation, due to undesirable conditions.
“I get to play outside and go to karate,” said Derrick’s granddaughter.
“We teach them that they are accepted and that love is unending…that there is no limit to love,” said Derrick.
As more and more families and parents arrived at the playground, a young girl, Rachel, committed an act of generosity and philanthropy out of the kindness of her own heart. Rachel brought in her childhood collection of Barbie dolls and other children’s toys and donated them to the group of young kids that were in attendance.
“I have so much and there are kids that don’t have as much as me, so it’s good to give back,” she said.