Kerri Kemp, manager of child placement and support services with the Department of Health and Social Services, says the goal of a new foster care pilot project is to more quickly reunite foster children with their biological parents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government plans new foster parent program

Program could see foster children living under the same roof as their biological and foster parents

The Yukon government is launching a new foster care pilot project that will not only pair children in need with foster parents, but also give their biological parents a chance to live under the same roof.

Under the new family reunification project, foster children, their biological parents and foster parents could all end up living together in a government-owned three-bedroom home in Whitehorse.

The goal is to more quickly reunite foster children with their biological parents, said Kerri Kemp, manager of child placement and support services with the Department of Health and Social Services.

“This type of service is going to give us the ability to work more intensely with the birth parents and kids who are placed in the home.”

Similar programs exist across the country, Kemp said. In those, “kids are being reunited with their families faster, because the parents have a more intense involvement,” she said.

“It means that we’re shortening the time that we have kids in care.”

The government’s announcement did not include many specifics. Many of the details of the Yukon program will depend on the families who participate, Kemp said.

It may be a gradual process where the biological parents work their way up to living in the house full time.

There will be no government support staff living in the house, but support workers will visit and help when needed, she said.

Neither the Yukon foster family nor the family in need of support has been chosen.

It hasn’t been finalized yet whether the foster family will get paid more than in a standard situation or if they would be required to pay rent.

As for whether the foster parents involved will get any specialized training beyond what is given to a standard foster parent, that will depend on the needs of the child and their biological parents, the health department said.

Kemp said foster parents will not be responsible for monitoring the success of the other adults in the house. That will be the job of a case manager or social worker, she said.

Details about what kind of services government officials will be offering — such as counselling — will also depend on what the family needs, Kemp said.

The health department says the pilot program will be up and running by January.

It’s scheduled to run for three years. Based on other programs around the country, families are expected to live in the house for about eight months, Kemp said.

In Manitoba, the Living in Family Enhancement (LIFE) program has been running since 2008. In that time about 30 families have been placed with trained foster parents who act as both parents to the children and mentors to the biological parents.

“It has allowed children the opportunity to be nurtured and cared for alongside of their parent so that they don’t experience that trauma of separation.” said Billie Schibler, chief executive officer with the Metis Child and Family Services Authority.

Schibler said the Manitoba program does not work with families who are considered high risk, like those with a history of violence.

Instead the LIFE program is geared towards families that are considered low risk, she said.

“It may be that there’s chronically an issue where if they just had some really good support and mentoring they would learn and understand a little bit more about the about the needs of their children. They would learn and understand their role as parents a little bit better,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s about parenting the parent. Sometimes it’s about (the fact that) they didn’t have those needs met well themselves as they were coming up into adulthood.”

About half the families who participate complete the program, she said. Of those, about 70 per cent are reunited with their children full time.

“When we can see those kind of outcomes then that tells us that this is a no-brainer, this is the way that it should be. Kids should not have the trauma of separation if we can prevent it.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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