By Lina Stoyanova

This article features Kim and Ken Dennison’s foster story with the help of the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society.

Love has no boundaries when it comes to foster parents Kim and Ken Dennison. Happily married for over seven years, in addition to having two of their own children (ages 8 and 10), the pair have taken in five kids over the last two years. Just like running Onyx Fitness Solutions together, fostering is a team effort that this duo looks forward to doing for years to come. Debunking the misconceptions and encouraging everyone to foster, this is what they had to say.

Q: What Made You Decide To Become A Foster Parent?

Kim: When I was fairly young, I remember noticing people who were on the streets and coming to the realization that’s where they lived and it bothered me. I would ask my parents if we could bring them home with us and became really upset when they wouldn’t allow it. Maybe the thoughts started around that time since I was learning about how some things in the world were, I’m not quite sure. When I think back, I know I’ve wanted to be a foster parent since I was a teenager. I’ve just always wanted to help people. Fostering is one of those things that’s been on my mind and in my heart for a long time.

Ken: The thought didn’t really cross my mind until I met Kim. We came to a point in our relationship where we started questioning whether we wanted to have more kids of our own. We had a number of conversations basically asking, “What are we going to do now?” since we weren’t sure where we’d be as a family in terms of finances or location. At the time I was landscaping, and we were on a very different plane. The opportunity to bring a child into our home, help them, and have an influence on them to be an active part of the community has always driven me. I really care about the kids and about my community. In general, I love helping people and guiding them. We are proud to be advocates and highly encourage parents, even single parents, to reach out and ask us questions because if you don’t ask, you won’t know. Having a child in our home, especially more long-term, gives us a chance to connect with that child, develop trust, build the relationship and understand what they’re going through.

Q: What’s The Best Part Of Being A Foster Parent?

Kim: A few things come to mind for me. For instance when we look at our kids, Zachary and Nathaniel, we see how much joy it brings them. For the most part, they enjoy having an extra friend around. That extra friend becomes a brother to them, and that’s how they view it. It’s nice for them to interact, learn about another’s life experiences, and it creates a lot of teachable moments for everyone. I think we all take pride in the aspect of being able to help children dig through and problem solve issues that arise. That part is rewarding for sure. There are times when you’re taken off guard by the things the kids say about themselves, how they view themselves, or situations they’ve experienced, but

that’s when you have the opportunity to speak truth to them or into that situation. You’re able to help the child see things in a different light, to build them up and encourage them. Seeing positive changes in the foster kids we’ve taken in is the best part for me.

Ken: For me, it goes two ways, individually, and as a family. As a family, I think the first word that comes to mind when we foster a child is thankful. It gives our family a chance to learn about another person and their situation. When a child leaves, we notice how they carry themselves with more confidence, or they’re prouder, because of the tools we’ve given them and were able to assist in helping them during their time with us. Watching them progress and come out of their shell is amazing to us. Individually, the best part is learning from them; when they are able to look at you and see you’re human too, that you want to understand and connect with them. It makes everything stronger between the pair of you, so when a situation arises, whether big or small, you can both handle it better and you have a higher level of respect for doing so.

Q: What’s A Challenge And How Do You Overcome It?

A: We would say the number one thing is patience. Find patience and make sure you utilize problem solving skills because a lot of the time you have to take on the role of a detective to find the root of an issue and figure out what’s really bothering them. Some people might think just because they’re young that they don’t have big-world problems. We all have bad days, we all have to do things we don’t want to do, and children are no different. Treating the kids that come into our home with that mentality has really helped us connect and make a difference in their lives and our interactions with them. In terms of tips, the agency has a lot of resources in general. They’ve given us extra material when we’ve requested it, and we’ve also taken part in available training that’s helped us along the way. There’s a lot of information that you can review, and even workers who have assisted us by offering different strategies and approaches to the situations we’ve faced. In a nutshell, you want to set yourself on the same playing field with the kids, have patience, ask for help when needed, communicate well, and of course, use the resources that are available.

Q: Why Do You Think People Are Hesitant To Become A Foster Parent?

A: Based on comments we hear, and the questions people ask us, we feel there are a lot of misconceptions out there that cause hesitation when it comes to fostering. For example, people think if the agency calls for a placement, you have to take that particular child, which isn’t true. You have a say and are allowed to decline, there’s no obligation. There’s also a lot of paperwork from the time you start the pre-foster training process right through to the log notes. That may be a turn-off to some people but it makes sense for success on both ends. The agency needs to look at what the child needs, and at the same time what the home can provide. On the flip side, they are looking at what the foster family can handle based on the dynamics of the home. Again, there are a lot of misconceptions and if you don’t ask, you won’t know. You are able to parent them, and are actually co-parenting them with the help of the agency. You can instill good values into a child without compromising your house rules. No child wants to come into your house and cause chaos, they just want to be happy, they’re kids.

Q: If Someone Hasn’t Fostered Before, What’s Something You’d Like To Tell Them?

A: We would say do your homework ahead of time. Meet up with other foster parents to hear all of the good and the bad, and weigh it out. You don’t have to be afraid, there’s a lot of information and help available. We found that all of our best brainstorming and experiences happened when we connected with our resource worker, other foster parents, and realized we weren’t alone; we were able to communicate with people who understood exactly what we were experiencing. Everyone will have their opinion about C.A.S., but the fact of the matter is kids need help, and if we’re able to reach just one child, it’s been a good day. Always try to focus on the kids instead of the opinions.

There’s also a lot of trainings, seminars, sessions, community meetings, really a lot of support that you can be a part of. People may say it’s not the right time, or just not right now, in which case there may never be a right time. If you start the process and take it slow, that’s okay. The agency is flexible and understands that life happens, and they’re ready to help. Seek out the information and know that you can start at any time. Weigh out all of the pros and cons and let your heart lead the way.   

Q: What Are Some Key Steps Worth Mentioning?

A: First and most importantly, go online, call, or find out the dates and attend one of the information sessions. We would say give yourself about one to two years to go through the whole process from start to finish. After you have some general information and are ready, you’ll move on to the P.R.I.D.E training (Parent Resources for Information Development and Education Training), that’s done through the agency. For this, there are two options, you can choose to complete a 9-week training that takes place on a set weeknight, or the second option, which worked better for us, the two back-to-back weekend courses that run Saturday and Sunday (four days total). Depending on schedules, there may be a waiting time before appointments can be set-up to move on to the next step, which is the home study part. Every foster family is connected with a home study worker who comes to the house multiple times for a series of interviews. It’s quite extensive. You’re talking about things like your personal, work, and medical history, immediate and extended family relationships, friends, beliefs, opinions, references, and so on—there’s a lot. After the home study visits and safety checks are complete, the worker compiles all the information and writes everything up. We were sent a copy of the document to proofread to make sure the information was communicated accurately and make any corrections if needed. Once we gave the go-ahead, that brought things to the final step where the completed home study document was sent to the supervisor for approval. Upon approval, you get matched up with a resource worker who is your representation and help along the way. It’s all very detailed and in-depth which is why it’s important to give yourself time because it can’t be rushed. So to sum it up, you inquire, attend the P.R.I.D.E. training, complete the home study, get the approval, and are then ready to open your home. Keep in mind that as an approved and active foster family, you are required to complete at least 20 training hours per year. Throughout the whole process, you have the agency’s support and we encourage everyone to always ask questions and reach out to other foster parents.

The Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society is dedicated to the well-being and safety of every child by advocating for, and partnering with, our children, families and communities. YOU can make a difference in the life of a child. To apply or request more information, contact (519) 252-1171 ext. 3774.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIFE OF A CHILD!

Come and take part in one of our information sessions taking place at The Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (1671 Riverside Dr East, Windsor), on the following dates:

Thursday, July 25: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Thursday, August 15: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Thursday, September 17: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Tuesday, October 17: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Tuesday, November 19: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Thursday, December 12: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.