By JEN CARDINES
Hundreds of children and youth are in Connecticut’s foster care system on any given day and need a safe place to live. Wheeler Clinic’s foster care program is designed to train and connect foster parents with children to offer them a nurturing environment to call home.
The program is one of over 100 that Wheeler runs throughout their 35 facilities across Connecticut. Sharon Pendleton-Ponzani, director of foster care services, sat down with the Observer to explain the foster care process and the high demand for parents.
Wheeler’s foster care program is funded by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and based out of the 88 East St. location in Plainville, where parent training takes place. The State of Connecticut adopted and requires the TIPS-MAPP: Trauma Informed Partnering For Safety and Permanence – Model Approach To Partnerships In Parenting training course for all foster parents to take.
“The good thing about TIPS-MAPP is that it’s really meant to talk to you about what it’s like to be a foster parent and it doesn’t commit people in any way to be a foster parent,” said Pendleton-Ponzani. Training classes are once a week for 10 weeks. “You can drop out any time along the way, but we hope that people will stay until the end,” Pendleton-Ponzani said. Anyone from anywhere in the state can apply for the program as long as they are able to train in Plainville.
Wheeler’s foster care program focuses on individualized attention for children that have had multiple placements and haven’t done well in a home with multiple kids. “The most important thing for us is to do very careful matching,” said Pendleton-Ponzani.
About 100 children come through Wheeler’s program each year, and on any given day, about 60 to 70 are in homes with foster families. The program director said that many families choose to adopt their child. “To be able to see a family come together and see something successful happen is great,” she said.
As a large organization, Wheeler is able to utilize a lot of cross-work within their programs. The foster care program can work closely with other programs for children in need such as substance abuse, outpatient services, schools, and more intensive in-home needs.
“There are a lot of things that we can cover together as a large organization that we wouldn’t get the opportunity to do if we didn’t have this organization,” said Pendleton-Ponzani. “It makes the flow of treatment much easier for people. I think in that way we provide some of the best care we can.”
There are a variety of ways to get involved with fostering. Pendleton-Ponzani said the best way to access all information is through Wheeler’s website. There is also a 24/7 line available at (860) 793-7277.
Currently, Wheeler is offering FOSTER-AWARE parties where they provide food and a presentation about the program to connect potential foster parents with the organization. Those interested can book with Jennifer Schroyer or Brittany Diorio at (860) 793-7277 or firstname.lastname@example.org