• Hannah Sabourin

Foster home shortage in Gatineau Hills

The director of the Outaouais’ Department of Youth Protection (DYP), Colette Nadeau, said a record number of foster kids are without homes in the region. As of June 23, the DYP reported that six children from the Gatineau Hills, three from the Gatineau Valley, three in Papineau, and 18 in Gatineau struggle to find a soft place to land as they escape dangerous living situations.


“This is the highest number of foster kids on a waiting list for a placement that we have seen in many years,” said Nadeau.


The DYP investigates and relocates minors who are abandoned or neglected by their families. They also intervene in situations where a child suffers from or is exposed to psychological, sexual, and physical abuse.


A foster family is a single person, a couple, or a family who opens their home to children in need. The DYP expects foster families to guarantee children security, stability and comfort.


As 30 children wait for new long-term homes, some stay with their original families and are closely monitored by protective services. Others live with temporary foster care families or in rehabilitation centres as they wait for permanent homes.


While the organization has no problem finding short-term/ emergency placements for foster children, there is a shortage of families willing to take in children permanently, according to Nadeau. For example, as of June 23, there were 29 foster home spots available, but because these families may not be equipped or do not want to take care of children long-term, the DYP said it still feels the effects of a shortage.


She also explained that it is difficult to find families who are able or willing to care for children with behavioural issues.


“One kid […] has a complex history and challenging temperament,” said Nadeau. “With the right support system, he could get better. But we cannot yet find a family who wants to care for him long term.”


Strict criteria to blame for shortage


The shortage may also result from criteria laid out by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services. “A lot of foster families do tell us that our criteria are a little too strict,” said Nadeau.


Among the DYP’s minimum requirements, an eligible foster parent must have first aid certification, a clean criminal record, and good financial standing. Also, the home in which they welcome foster children must be safe, well-lit, hygienic, and accessible according to the child’s mobility needs.


However, other requirements are highly specific and difficult to make adjustments for.


For example, Cantley couple Amanda DeGrace and Adam Smith had their hearts set on fostering children in 2021.


At the time, the couple said they figured their four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home would provide a good space for incoming foster children. But, DeGrace said that the couple was denied accreditation from the DYP because of the layout of their house.


“The master bedroom is on the main floor and it needs to be on the same floor as the foster child’s bedroom” she explained.


According to DeGrace, she and Smith “have tons of experience with children and have high recommendations from healthcare professionals, but our home wasn’t approved.”


Also, another common disqualifier is the size of bedrooms–this can decide the eligibility of aspiring foster parents.


“For children who are not from the same family, they require separate rooms. So, this requires that foster families have larger homes,” Nadeau explained, adding that it’s these kinds of rules that make it difficult for caregivers to join the foster system.


For other aspiring foster families, their inability to speak French may also bar them from fostering children in Quebec. Krista Mercier told the Low Down that her lack of French knowledge disqualified them from fostering in Quebec.


Nadeau explained that the DYP accredits fewer anglophone families because the need for English-speaking families is not as big. “Right now, of the children who are on the waiting list for foster homes, I don’t think a single one of them is an anglophone,” she said. “But we still do accredit anglophone parents.”


Foster system may hurt more than it helps


When foster parents are approved by the DYP, they might become overwhelmed by the lack of support from social workers, added Melissa Barr, a foster mother from Aylmer who fostered four boys over the past nine years.


“Since we got our son, he has had around seven caseworkers in six years […] Even our quality control agent has 94 families to look after,” explained Barr. In spite of a lack of support, Barr is undaunted in her efforts to continue to foster children.


“There are so many reasons not to foster,” she said. “And yet, there are so many reasons to foster. It doesn’t take a lot to just be a decent human being. To see them grow, it’s worth every second — even when they make me crazy.”


One Gatineau Hills farmer, who asked to remain anonymous, decided to avoid the system altogether and fosters children without DYP.


When she herself was a foster child, she experienced institutional abuse. “When you go into the system, it can make things worse,” she said.


Because of her experiences, she wants to give them a place to feel safe and comfortable to ultimately break a cycle of family dysfunction. When “people take in their children’s friends who might be going through difficult times at home. I think that’s the way to go,” she said, Her ultimate goal is to help children


For more information about how to become a foster parent, visit the DYP’s website: https:// bit.ly/3HZilrN.