BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Roberta and Kevin Hinkle didn’t know what to expect when they decided to become foster parents. They only knew that they wanted to help as many children as possible. They have both been married before, and each brought kids into the marriage. But, they wanted to try and have children together. When that didn’t work out, a flyer at Roberta’s work inspired her. “Our pastor was preaching about helping children.. but we didn’t know where to go. There was an advertisement at work about the Foster Fair and I emailed it to [Kevin] and said this is a great opportunity to learn about this”, explained Roberta about how they got involved with Child and Family Services in Buffalo.
After going through the initial screening, and then taking part in a 10-week training program through Child and Family Services, the Hinkles became certified foster parents. They are now caring for two brothers, who are four and seven years old. “It’s different dynamics, personalities. Obviously our children have different personalities than these children, and they have different personalities than each other. so meshing them all was something that was interesting in the beginning but they’re bonding and doing well”, Roberta said about how the boys are adapting to their new home.
For anyone who thinks they won’t qualify based on their life situation, Child and Family Services offers this advice. Linda McCartin is a foster care manager who says “You can be single, widowed, divorced, it can be an intact family, the whole spectrum is out there in terms of what we look for”.
There are at least 800 children in Erie County alone who need stable homes for one reason or another, including the two boys Roberta and Kevin Hinkle are caring for. They say watching the boys enjoy new experiences is one of the big rewards of fostering, even something as simple as playing outdoors or riding a bike. There are also challenges that come with taking care of children who have a different background and may have gone through things that the foster parent doesn’t fully comprehend. One of the Hinkles foster sons is having difficulty at school, for example. “The way we need to parent him is a little bit different than we would parent our own children, so I reach out to my caseworker to try and figure out how to handle those problems, and she’ll reach out to his birth mom and they’ll talk about it during visits and we kind of all parent together. It takes a small village!” said Hinkle. They are fortunate in that their foster sons’ birth mother is cooperative with the agency in helping to raise the boys; not every case works out that way. The goal with fostering is always to reunite the children with their birth families, as long as the birth parents meet certain requirements. People like the Hinkles give those children a safe and supportive environment where they can, hopefully, thrive until they can go back home. “If that’s not possible, then we just want them to do good, to be loved, that’s the main goal”, Hinkle explained.
She and her husband have also discovered another challenge they didn’t expect, having to do with social media. Because of the nature of the casework involved with foster children, their foster families are not allowed to post any pictures or videos that might reveal their identities. “We bring children into our home and we want to treat them like our own children and want to treat them like our family, but ‘oh no, you can’t be part of that picture’, or ‘we have to pretend like you weren’t there’ kind of thing. That’s tough”.
If people like Roberta and Kevin didn’t open their homes, these children would have an even tougher road. McCartin says children who don’t make it into a foster home often end up in residential settings, which is less homelike and more institutional. They find those children will disrupt from one home to the next and move through the system rapidly. “We know every time a child moves or is disrupted, there is an additional trauma that is put on top of them,so they’re falling back and not making the gains that they could be in order to be successfully reunited with their family”, McCartin explained about why the need for foster families is so great.
Hinkle offers this message for anyone who is interested in getting involved with a foster program, but has doubts or concerns. “It’s not as scary as you think it is. You’re raising your own children anyway, and even if you don’t have children, there are other foster parents out there to help you. There is the agency, literature, all kinds of things that can help you if you run into a situation you don’t feel equipped to handle”.
For anyone who misses the Erie County Foster Fair on Saturday, February 13, 2016, there is more information about how to get involved in fostering through Child and Family Services here.