FARMINGTON — Dave and Heather Baker both grew up in families that took in treatment foster children. When they married around 12 years ago, the two decided they were going to follow in their parents' footsteps.
"It's just something we felt like we wanted to do and needed to do," Heather Baker said.
Since then the couple has worked with La Familia-Namaste, a state-wide nonprofit social service agency, to help 14 children, ranging in age from less than a year old to 18.
Treatment foster care is not like regular foster care.
"We are a level of mental health treatment for children," Joanna Warner, the Farmington director at La Familia-Namaste, said.
Unlike traditional foster care, treatment foster care is provided for children with emotional or behavioral disturbances and is not run by the state. The goal is to help teach the children the skills they need to be reunited with their families or placed for adoption.
Warner said a lot of the children would have to go into residential treatment homes if it weren't for the foster program.
"This allows a child to have that kind of treatment in a family system," Warner said.
The family system allows the children to continue participating in sports and attending church.
The foster family is carefully matched with a child.
The Bakers, in many ways, are an ideal family for La Familia-Namaste. Both parents knew the need for families and wanted to help.
"The whole family really needs to support the work," Warner said.
But most of the families who offer their services are not as familiar with the program as the Bakers.
"Mostly we get families interested because they see families doing the work," Warner said.
And the supply of families does not meet the demand.
Warner said she has been receiving referrals in the last couple of weeks for children who need to be placed in homes, but the Farmington region of La Familia-Namaste is currently at capacity.
Childhaven CEO Erin Hourihan and Treatment Foster Care Coordinator Heather Yazzie discuss the advantages of the program. Childhaven, located on Apache Street, is looking for treatment foster families, respite foster families and traditional foster families.
1. Why is there such a need for treatment foster parents?
Hourihan said often children haven't been successful in traditional foster care placements due to their severe emotional disruptions and behavior. "What's unique about treatment foster care is a regular, dedicated multi-discipline approach," Hourihan said. The highly-trained foster parents work alongside coordinators like Yazzie to help create a specialized plan for each child.
2. Who typically refers children for treatment foster care?
"We tend to see more children who are in either tribal or state custody," Hourihan said. Yazzie added that the program has some biological parents refer their children for the program, but it is not as common.
3. What are the advantages of treatment foster care compared to residential treatment facilities?
One advantage is kids bond with the foster parents. "They really learn how to be part of a family," Hourihan said. She said this helps when they transition back into traditional foster care or are placed back with their families. Yazzie said another plus is children who have been educationally neglected attend public schools.
4. How many families does Childhaven currently have in the program?
Hourihan said there are currently four treatment foster families. She said ideally there would be 25 families, although it would require Childhaven to hire more staff. "But really that would be a great goal," she said. 5. How can people help?
If someone is interested in becoming a treatment foster parent, Hourihan said they can call Sydney Nez at 505-325-3358, ext. 151. Childhaven also needs respite homes and traditional foster homes. The respite homes look after the children on a short-term basis, such as one weekend a month. For more information about traditional foster care or respite care, call Childhaven at 505-325-5358.
"We are really, really looking for families who are interested," she said.
However, not everyone interested in becoming a treatment foster parent will be admitted into the program.
The process starts with an intensive interview process. Families that pass the interview enter the training program, which is followed by a home study.
All of this is to make sure they can properly provide for the children's needs.
"They (the children) come with lots of issues that they have to work on," Heather Baker said. "Like food hoarding and stealing."
She remembers one of her foster children who was so food deprived that he would eat out of the trash can and off the floor. She said he would even eat chapstick.
In order to make sure the children receive the care they need, La Familia-Namaste provides "reimbursement." The money provided is enough for the family to live on, although La Familia-Namaste prefers that one parent have a job so that the family has an income in the short periods of time when there aren't any children with them.
"You can kind of describe it as a different kind of job," Warner said.
The Bakers currently have two biological daughters, ages 6 and 10, and are fostering two other children, ages 4 and 6.
When Heather Baker became pregnant with her oldest daughter, the couple decided to stop taking in children. Three years ago, they resumed their service as foster parents.
"I missed it," Heather Baker said. "We both missed it. We enjoyed it when we did it."
She said she also thinks it gives her children a different viewpoint that other children might not have.
"I think they see how things are," she said. "They know what life is for these kids. It really gives them a big heart to want to help."
Helping children is more than just home life for Dave Baker. He also works with juvenile probation.
"He has to shift gears when he comes home," Heather Baker said.
With the foster program come some unique challenges.
The hardest part is hearing the stories, Heather Baker said.
"There's kids that have really been through such difficult struggles at such young ages," she said.
The Bakers' challenge is to teach them coping strategies and show them how they can do things differently.
Letting them go can be hard, Heather Baker said. But she is comforted by the thought that maybe they will use the techniques that "Miss Heather" taught them and be able to succeed in life.
She said they recently went through sensory training, part of 40 hours of training required each year, and have been trying to incorporate sensory games and activities with their children, such as going to the park and playing in water.
The family also lives on a strict routine that starts at 7 a.m. each day.
They have every 10 minutes of the day mapped out because changes can be hard for the children.
Part of what makes the program successful is the support system, Heather Baker said.
Warner said that staff from La Familia-Namaste is available for these families 24-7.
"If we need something, they'll have those resources available," Heather Baker said.