BY APRIL AMADON

amadona@gnnewspaper.com

After a year and a half, Kelly Campbell’s foster daughter is finally starting to feel at home.

Campbell has been a foster parent for about five years, and her current foster kids — twin 16-year-old girls — are beginning to adjust.

“(One girl) said, ‘This is my home. I think of this as my home. When I don’t feel good, I want to go home,’ ” she said. “When they first moved in, they didn’t sleep well. ... I’ve had her a year and a half, and she thinks of it as home. In her bed, she sleeps well.”

Campbell provides one of 27 local foster homes under the auspices of KidsPeace, a private charity that serves the behavioral and mental health needs of children throughout the eastern United States.

At the KidsPeace office in Lockport, at 1 East Ave., Program Manager Betsy Farkas works closely with Campbell and other foster parents to match them with children in need of foster care.

There are kids in the program from ages 2 to 18. Without foster homes, the kids will have to be placed in residential facilities, which are not always the best fit, Farkas said.

The organization works to match the kids to the homes that will work for them. Prospective parents are screened carefully.

“We are very cautious, because we are placing children,” she said. “You have to be aware that your life is an open book, and we ask a lot of questions. ... Your house has to be open, not just to the kids that are coming in, but the caseworkers, because we’re right there to help out.”

She said prospective foster parents need to be patient, forgiving and tolerant people, but they must also offer a firm hand to guide the children through life.

“Oftentimes, the kids come from backgrounds where nobody ever held them accountable,” she said. “A lot of times they come in angry and resentful, and no matter how good you are to them, they’re still so angry at their biological family, and they’re so hurt by their biological family. They question, ‘How can a perfect stranger open up their house to me?’ ”

Campbell remembers when she first went to KidsPeace, after hearing about it from a foster parent who came into her office. The caseworker she spoke to took her through all the possible problems she could face with a foster kid coming from a bad environment.

“They tell you all the scenarios, what the kids’ problems could be,” she said. “They want you to be prepared. But the kids really are just kids. They might have issues, but basically, they really are just kids.”

Since she first started with KidsPeace, Campbell has taken in five teens, including one — a teenage mother with a baby — she took in only on weekends.

Already the mother of two teens — Markus, now 22, and Heather, now 20 — Campbell wanted to take in teenagers.

Foster parents receive a stipend for the extra cost of utilities and other household expenses for the kids.

KidsPeace caseworkers are on call 24/7 for the kids and the foster parents in case of an emergency.

“If they’re having a tough evening, they’ve got someone to talk to,” Farkas said.

In Campbell’s house, she’s found the key to having a successful relationship with her foster kids is to let them move at their own pace.

“People think it’s going to be real difficult, but really it’s just about talking to them a lot,” she said. “Don’t ignore what their problems are, what their life was like. They want to talk about it.”

Once her current foster kids graduate from high school and leave her home, Campbell said she’s considering taking in more teens.

She said she’d encourage other families to take in foster kids, despite how scary it might seem.

“They’re just kids,” she said. “They just need a regular mother figure. You might not turn into their mom, but you’re a mother figure.”

Contact reporter April Amadon

at 439-9222, ext. 6251.

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