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A guiding light for foster families

Kelsey Jones holds parents accountable – and gives them lots of encouragement and support – no matter who they are and what they’ve done.

After a judge takes a child but deems a parent potentially redeemable, Jones tries to help that parent rebuild a responsible life. Meanwhile, she delivers that child into the arms of trained foster parents and keeps in regular contact with everyone involved.

It’s a big job for a 23-year-old.

“It gets difficult sometimes. I just have to remove myself and know I did the best that I could do. I sleep fine at night,” said Jones, a Potsdam native who lives in Amherst and is a caseworker for Gateway-Longview.

Jones went to work for the agency two years ago, after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Daemen College. She juggles the needs and demands of more than a dozen foster and birth families these days, and has worked with as many as 16 family situations at a time.

Those with jobs like Jones, and the foster parents she helps serve, are in demand. Nearly 300 foster children in Erie County are without a foster family. A lack of trained foster parents keeps them in more institutionalized settings. Social service agencies hope to put dent in that number next weekend with the county’s first Foster Family Fair (for details, see Page 3).

“She’s a guide for us and a guide for the birth family, too,” foster parent Katie Quebral said of Jones. Quebral and her husband, Frank, who live on Buffalo’s West Side, recently adopted a pair of 2-year-old children, Brandon and Lilly, whom they fostered almost since birth. Late last year, the couple also became foster parents to a baby boy born prematurely and in fragile health.

“I think it’s sometimes hard for the foster families because the caseworkers have to wear both hats,” Quebral said.

“It seems like there’s loyalty to us and the birth family. If you remove yourself and make it about the kids, then you understand the role that Kelsey has to play.”

Q: What does a caseworker do?

Supervised visitation with birth parents and the child. For Brandon and Lilly, I supervised visits with their grandparents. Going to court. Court’s more sporadic. Inputting notes into our computer system, doing home visits with our foster families, going out and doing day care contacts with the kids.

Q: These children have all been removed from their parents?

They’re all in Erie County custody.

Q: So your goal is to see how the parents will do?

Exactly, and to help those parents do what they need to do.

Q: What happens after someone decides to become a foster parent?

They have to go through MAP (training), 10 sessions, five weeks. Gateway-Longview has home-finders who are employed to teach them about what foster parenting is all about. The caseworkers come in and talk to them about being a foster parent … when they’re certified.

Q: What are some of the things early on in the process that you help families with?

Understanding the court process. Helping them with visitation. It’s really difficult on the foster parents if birth parents aren’t showing up for visitation, so helping foster parents through that, being a support system. Being a foster parent is extremely challenging, but rewarding.

Q: What qualities make a good foster parent?

Someone who’s extremely selfless. You have to be. As Katie says, ‘It’s not about the foster parents; it’s about the kids.’ You have to remove yourself and your own feelings about (whether families may reunite). If it doesn’t work out, then you go from there. But being able to have a good relationship with the birth parents makes all the difference in the world. It makes them feel better.

Q: When it comes to visitation with the birth parents, who goes?

Typically, it’s just the children with the birth parents. I’ll sit in the room and stay silent unless I need to intervene. That’s only if there’s a safety concern.

Q: What percentage of birth parents will visit with children regularly?

I have 14 cases now. I have one birth parent who isn’t. Birth parents might not always be consistent but they definitely engage.

Q: What are some things that surprise foster parents?

They can’t give a kid a haircut without asking the birth parent. You can’t leave the county lines. If a kid is sick and has to go to the doctor, we have to call the birth parents and see if medication is OK. The first time a kid is going to a doctor’s appointment, I’ll go so the doctor will know how things are going to work.

Q: Does all of this make you want to have kids more?

No, no. I’ve heard what labor’s all about. I’ve seen poopy diapers changed. So, no, … but I probably will have kids someday. I do go home and call my mom and say, ‘Thank you.’

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Frank and Katie Quebral talk about their lives as foster parents at refresh.buffalonews.com.