Public Safety

Probation Department Shows Appreciation to Foster Families

Former foster child Omar Passons, the director of Integrative Services for the County’s Health and Human Services Agency, spoke with and thanked new and potential foster families of teenagers in the criminal justice system.

Parenting is always work and being a foster parent to a teenager who is on probation comes with its own challenges. The County wants parents stepping up to this responsibility to know they are not alone, and the County has resources to help. That was the resounding message at a recent parent appreciation and recruitment dinner hosted by the San Diego County Probation Department.

Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales told the group, which included foster parents and families who had expressed an interest in learning more about the program, that he identifies with foster children. He told them he lived with his aunt for three years after moving to the United States from Mexico. She and other family were a strong support system that allowed him to succeed.

“Foster kids can accomplish a lot. Having someone who cares and supports you goes a long way,” said Gonzales. “We need more foster parents because we have more kids, boys and girls, that have a need. And the ones that are here, that already have a foster kid, we want them to talk about their experience. The new people that we’re trying to bring on board, we want them to understand what it takes. It’s a lot of work to go through the county and the state to become a foster parent, but the rewards and satisfaction you get out of it makes it worth it.”

Chrystal Sweet, division chief of the Probation’s Placement Unit, said all new foster families now must complete a resource family approval process, which includes training with an emphasis on trauma-informed care and available community resources. The dinner was held to celebrate their accomplishment and to give them an opportunity to develop a strong peer support network.

Probation invited Omar Passons, the director of Integrative Services for the County’s Health and Human Services Agency and himself a former foster child, to speak to families. He opened up about his childhood, explaining that his mother suffered from mental illness, was disabled and could not care for him. He was put into the foster care system at 10 months old.

Passons told the families he could have turned out differently. What made a difference to him growing up was people making time for him when he was interested in learning about something. Among those who supported him were his own foster parents, and he was honored to be among other foster parents that evening.

“I wanted to say thank you to the parents who went through that work (to become a foster family). That work is not easy, it was your home that you opened up, it was your life that you put on display to make a difference. That matters– it made a difference in my life,” Passons said.

“It is so fundamentally important for a young person to have some place where they feel like they belong, even if it’s only for a year or two years or five years and not a child’s whole life. Knowing that you have a firm place with a foothold can change the course of somebody’s life,” he added. “So, for people who are thinking ‘I’ve lived a good life’ or ‘I just really feel called to do this,’ there’s a path for that and it can really make a difference –and it’s not a thing where they have to do it alone.”

Among those families in the room were the grandparents of a 17-year-old boy who will soon complete a court-ordered treatment that combines academics with counseling related to his issues. After that, he will come live with them again.

“Our experience with the Probation office and with the social workers has been really good,” the grandfather said.

He said the program has turned things around for their grandson. Things started clicking and he got his high school diploma at age 16, joined student government at the school program and completed a nurse certification program. When he returns home, his grandson plans to work as a certified medical nurse and take community college classes to become an emergency medical technician.

If not for his grandparents, he would return to spend his time on Probation in a group home.

The grandfather said Probation helped them choose the right program for their grandson, gave them regular updates on his progress and arranged visits to the school, as well as set up classes for him and his wife to take to become his foster parents.

Often, some families are apprehensive of fostering teenagers who have had some criminal involvement. Providing loving and supportive home environments can help steer these youth to long-term success.

The San Diego County Probation Department understands the challenges involved and assist the families with attending training that provides a strong support program for its foster families that includes trauma-informed classes and a network of support involving their officers and other foster families.

As for prospective foster families at the event, Sweet said, “We’ve given them the information, we’ve started them out with the application, so we want to try and move forward as quickly as possible to go through the entire approval process for them and connect them with a youth that is on probation that needs a home and that is looking for care in a home-like environment.”

For more information on becoming a foster parent, visit the County’s Foster and Adoptive Resource Family Services web page or call (858) 694-4627.

 

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact