Foster Care on St. Maarten

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PHILIPSBURG – According to the Convention of the Rights of Children, every child has the right to a family, care and a proper upbringing. 721news spoke with Foster Families Guardian Bernadette Stephens, and Acting Director Cynthia Filemon, both of whom represent the Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten regarding Foster Care on St. Maarten.

Stephens and Filemon told 721news that often children are separated from their parents due to many issues such as, abuse, psychological, social, health or financial problems including poverty. Due to this, the children need to be placed in a safe environment. The separation is necessary because competent authorities, after judicial review, determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interest of the child.

Now, the child is entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State, and here is where the Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten-Foster Families Central comes into play.

Foster care is usually seen as temporary, as the children usually continue to visit with their own families until they can reunite. The Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten is working with the parents to improve the situation at home so that the child can return to their parents or custodial adults.

The role of a foster parent is important as they help the child to grow and feel good again by providing them with stability, affection, consistency and nurturing. “Many underestimate the care involved when taking a foster child, because many of these children come with baggage, such as behavioral and emotional problems, which is a challenge that many can’t deal with,” said Filemon. Stephens mentioned that lots of the children have trust issues, and they test the adults to see if they really love them. The ladies further stated that once you genuinely show love to the child that you have in foster care, you will get love in return.

In order to become a foster parent, the following requirements are needed: you must be a working adult with a stable job and a proper salary; secure/stable home environment; a passion for children; no criminal record; be in good mental and physical health and a minimum age of 24 years old. Once you have been chosen as a foster parent then you will go through training at the Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten, a home inspection will also be carried out and an assessment by a psychologist.

Stephens stated that they see many cases of neglect and abuse of children in the community, and foster care is important because of the cry for help. “Many people have children and cannot take care of them,” said Stephens.

“We desperately need foster parents, especially for teenagers, for whom it is difficult to get foster parents for,” Stephens noted. “Most people request younger children or babies, because they are considered easier to handle, but we ask the foster parents to give the children a chance, because once you show them that you love them it is different. We really need people with big hearts.”

The challenge that the department faces is low interest in the community for families to become involved in foster care. Consequently, children may stay longer in children homes and cannot experience living in a family setting and the benefits this offers. Foster families offer more intimate care for foster children and the development of the child improves fast because of the individual attention and the sense of belonging to a family.

Within the clientele of the department, currently there are about 65 children in foster homes. The financial contribution for fostering a child is NAf. 225.

“There are much more children in foster care that are not supervised because many persons will take children of others in their homes and take care of them, by providing for their daily necessities,” said Stephens.

721news asked the ladies where they would like to see foster care in the future. Filemon stated that she would like to see the department grow in its function, and to see different types of training offered to the target group on a continuous basis, and the year plan should be available for the community to peruse. The ladies would love to have enough foster parents and mentors, and a huge database of dependable families and mentors.

“I would like to also see us partner with service clubs and other organizations within the community, so that they can make foster care part of their agenda, and organize a yearly a foster week,” Filemon stated.

Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten currently has a mentoring program with K-1 Britannia, and works closely with the Court of Guardianship, the Courts, Mental Health Foundation, Turning Point, Social Affairs and Foster Homes. The institute is subsidized by the Ministry of Justice.

The ladies stated that foster care is important, and foster parents are needed. For more information about the role of and how to become a foster parent, contact the Foster Families Central at A.Th. Illidge Road #117 FX Complex, Unit D Madame Estate or via telephone (721) 542-3457 or e-mail: foster.families.central@sjis-sxm.org. Persons can also visit their website at www.sjis-sxm.org and www.sjis-sxm.org/fosterparenting/mentors.