Friday, November 03, 2006


The goal is mother-and-child reunions

Boston Globe

BROCKTON -- With more infants than ever in need of foster care in Southeastern Massachusetts, Brockton is set to become the second community in the state to launch a foster care program aimed at reuniting infants with their birth parents.
Christine Wallgreen

The goal is mother-and-child reunions
State foster care program in Brockton puts the focus on family
By Christine Wallgren, Globe Correspondent October 26, 2006
BROCKTON -- With more infants than ever in need of foster care in Southeastern Massachusetts, Brockton is set to become the second community in the state to launch a foster care program aimed at reuniting infants with their birth parents.

With "Team Fresh Start," foster mothers will mentor birth mothers in hopes of giving them the skills needed to care for their babies on their own. The program was piloted in Worcester over the last five years and had a 65 percent success rate, which is considered high by DSS officials, said Elaine Goldrick, adoption and foster care recruitment supervisor for the state Department of Social Services.
The new approach comes at a time when the need for foster homes is great. During a recent two-week period, Brockton's Department of Social Services took in five infants in need of foster care, victims of parental neglect or abuse. Four of those were "floating," meaning they were assigned to emergency foster homes on a night-to-night basis -- an arrangement that doesn't do much for the bonding process.
In all, 28 babies under a year old are in foster care in the Brockton area right now. Most often they are the offspring of mothers with substance abuse problems or teenage mothers who have no support system.
The babies who will become part of the Fresh Start program have mothers who have a reasonable chance of becoming responsible parents. Those mothers are carefully screened to make certain they are committed to addressing the troubles in their lives, such as addiction problems, officials said.
Meanwhile, the foster parent -- someone who is always at home -- undergoes eight weeks of training in child care and mentoring before taking over care of the infant. Once that happens, the mission is not just to care for the baby but to illustrate for the birth mother what good care looks like.
"They model how to be parents," Goldrick said.
The program involves the birth mother in the baby's care far more than traditional foster programs do.
"The visitation time is more extensive, and during the visit, the foster parent shares parenting skills with the birth parent," said Trudy Medeiros, Fresh Start supervisor for the DSS in Brockton.
Initial evidence is that babies spend a shorter time in Fresh Start foster care than in traditional foster care. "Twenty-one percent of the babies are more likely to return to the birth parent in six months with Fresh Start, due to the birth parent's contact with the child and their participation in the baby's care," Goldrick said.
The Fresh Start program is just getting off the ground in the Brockton area, but parents who have participated in the program in the Worcester area attest to its success.

Donna and Andrew Pinnow of West Boylston signed up for the Worcester Team Fresh Start when the program was established in 2000. It was the couple's first foster parent experience. "It's got to be a commitment by the whole family," Donna said. The couple has two daughters of their own.
Over the past six years, the Pinnows have been foster parents to nine infants. Five were reunited with birth parents. The other four were adopted by a close relative of the birth parent or other families. "They're all healthy and doing well," Donna said. "One of them is our godson because the parents wanted us to stay involved. Parents of most of the others have kept us informed."
Ilda Coelho, a DSS social worker, will provide one-on-one support to the foster families and birth parent during the Brockton Fresh Start program. South Bay Mental Health Services will also contribute, evaluating the infants and seeing that their special needs are addressed.
Goldrick said the Brockton DSS is looking in nearby Bridgewater for prospective Fresh Start foster parents, although foster families may be found in the communities the office serves, including East and West Bridgewater, Easton, Brockton, Holbrook, Avon, and Stoughton. "We saw Bridgewater as a small suburban community fairly close to our office that may be more likely to have stay-at-home parents," Goldrick said.
"We prefer experienced parents, who might even have a medical or social service background," Goldrick said. "It can be nontraditional, even age 60 plus. We don't want to rule people out because of age."
Easton resident Nora Dyer, who has an 19-month old son of her own, has taken care of six infants in her year as a foster parent through Brockton social services. She currently cares for a five-week old boy who was born prematurely to a drug-addicted mother. Since the birth parent has shown little interest in reuniting with the infant, the child is not slated to participate in Fresh Start.
But Dyer hopes eventually to join the Fresh Start program. "I think it's important right from the beginning that these babies, no matter what circumstances they are born into, are nurtured and loved and given a place to bond," Dyer said. "It may sound corny, but you definitely try to make a difference."
For more information on Team Fresh Start, call the state Department of Social Services at 800-543-7508.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
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