Geneviève and Eric are parents to seven children ranging from 7 to 26 years old. Two were entrusted by the Youth Protection Directorate (YPD); two others by international adoption. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have also provided emergency foster care for two teenage girls.
They make no distinction, however, as to where the children come from. According to them, they form a large "rainbow" family. The heartfelt desire of these parents is to allow all their children to develop and flourish.
This family project arose from a feeling of being privileged in life with good health, good education, good jobs, and more…and a desire to give back to society! Geneviève, a trained nurse and now a teacher at the Centre 24-Juin in Sherbrooke, was placed in a foster home as a teenager, so she has firsthand knowledge about the reality of foster families. She convinced her husband—a computer engineer who came from a more affluent background—to embark on the adventure, because not everyone has the same chances at the start.
What does it take to become a foster family?
« It's important to have common values, a desire to make a difference, a willingness to adapt to children's needs, and to be very patient," explained Geneviève.
The challenges can be great, since youths in foster care have necessarily experienced difficult situations that have led to removal from their family environment. They often have resultant problems, such as trauma, behavioural disorders, and learning disabilities.
« There are good days and bad days," she added. "You have to be prepared for a roller coaster every day.
But there are also the magical moments: the children's ability to marvel (even over hearing a simple story!), the progress made over time that demonstrates their ability to recover, and their resilience.
« They are the heroes. The champions who only need fertile ground in which to develop and grow," emphasized Geneviève.
The mutual aid and cohesiveness that forms between the children is also precious, as the commitment is very rewarding for the whole family.
Geneviève admits that she kind of has the soul of a missionary. She has been involved in humanitarian aid on her own and then with her family in various developing countries. She especially sees the great needs to be met here: "Misery is at our doorstep, in our own city."
She wants to be part of the solution and her whole family is behind her. In fact, the children in the family don't stop at the challenges they face; they are already ready to open their door and their hearts again to take in a new child!
Joanie Brown, social assistance technician in the application of measures for young people from 0 to 18 years old living with foster families
In January 2019, Martin participated in the new program, Des grands et des petits (Big and Small), developed by Katherine and Marc-Olivier, psychoeducators for the outpatient rehabilitation team in youth protection (see the profile of the psychoeducators). This intensive, 13-week program alternates home meetings and group meetings with other parents and their children aged 6 to 12 years.
A single father of a 10-year-old child, Martin greatly appreciated the group workshops and, with Katherine's backing, being able to quickly apply what he had learned at home. He considers that the group activities had offered perspective on the issues he was experiencing with his child by showing what others were going through and motivating him to try some of the tips. With time, he saw tangible results from the changes he implemented.
In his case, it helped him to "decode" his son who did not talk a lot and who would isolate himself in his room when things weren't going well. His son, who was diagnosed with ADHD, has a great need to move and would break things when he was angry. Now Martin understands his son's particular needs better. He knows how to impose his authority, to set limits, and to stick to his decisions in order to provide a better structure for his son. He more easily identifies the signs when his son has something to share and takes the time to speak to him about it, which has brought them closer. His son also learned to communicate better and to manage his emotions.
There are no longer crises and everyday life is better. Martin told his son: "Don't worry! Daddy will never give up on you. I'll always be there." The father and son have bonded and have a good relationship thanks, in part, to the workshops and the program's follow-ups, which Martin highly recommends, but above all, thanks to the effort made by him and his child.
*Martin: Name changed for confidentiality reasons.
- Profile | Psychoeducator (French)
Marie-Lou is pursuing her dream and passion as a short-film maker and as a worker at our institution. Who would ever have thought that this bright, 31-year-old woman had a chaotic childhood, regularly changing schools and regions with a father who could not take proper care of her?
When she was 12, her school filed a report and she was placed in foster care. She discovered routines, good meals, and the presence of adults who gave her life structure. She herself asked to remain in foster care. Marie-Lou was placed with several families and then at a foster home in Drummondville before becoming independent. She says that she used to be like a feral cat, inward-looking and no longer trusting adults. She used to run away, an act that gave her a false sense of freedom. A worker broke through her shell and she started trusting others and herself again.
Her perseverance was rewarded.
Marie-Lou enrolled in CEGEP to become a specialized educator and to give back to children, to offer them hope. While studying, her newfound interest in the camera grew and, once she graduated, she began applying her passion to her work with preteens at Centre jeunesse de l’Estrie.
Her short, socially themed documentaries attracted attention at movie festivals throughout the world. Her short doc, 24 h, on medical assistance in dying, even won an award at the 2017 Festival Cinéma du monde de Sherbrooke. La Grosse Classe, inspired by a poem by David Goudreault, covers the school system, and her latest, Santé!, asks how an elderly couple can stay united in spite of disease. Marie-Lou was awarded the 2018 Mérite Estrien in the artistic category.
Even if the producer no longer works with the youth clientele, she calls upon workers at the Val-du-Lac service point to get youth to participate in her shoots, which may even trigger their own passion.
"My cause is youth and teenagers. I want to show them that everything is possible when you're passionate about something," she said.
To see Marie-Lou's short documentaries:
Kassandra wanted to pay it forward. Shortly before last Christmas, she prepared gifts for the youth and specialized educators at the Oasis unit at the Val-du-Lac service point. She came to share her happiness and to give hope to the teenagers, many of whom were spending the holidays at the centre. As a former resident, she understood what they were going through.
In fact, Kassandra spent six years in a group home in Val-du-Lac from age 12 to 18. Prior to that, she lived with three different foster families. The young adult, now the mother of a nearly one-and-a-half-year-old toddler named Zackary, lives in an apartment in Sherbrooke with her spouse. She remembers the years spent under the wing of the DYP.
She remembers that, as a teenager, she was a closed book who felt misunderstood because her family could not take care of her. Then came the rebellious phase in which she wouldn't accept help from her educators and would occasionally run away. Following that came the beginning of authorized outings with her friends or boyfriend to the movie theatre or mall, which, according to her, was more like the life of a "normal" teenager. She remembers certain educators who were role models, who believed in her, and upon whom she could rely. She now acknowledges that the structure and support she was given by youth protection services were beneficial. She learned to express herself, to take care of herself, and to manage her emotions and anxiety.
"Today, I am who I am thanks to them, to their perseverance and faith in my abilities. I am grateful to them and I thank them for it." Kassandra now dreams of becoming a specialized educator to work with youth.
"Municipalities have a role to play in improving public health and ensuring the proper development of youth," said Paul Sarrazin, Mayor of Sainte-Cécile-de-Milton, a community of 2,200 in the Montérégie region. It is not just the responsibility of the health and social services network to do so: it is also a responsibility shared by cities and the education network, according to him. He fully agrees with the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.
He provides concrete examples on ways a city can engage in health promotion and prevention for the community. These include, among others, choosing park facilities (multi-age game modules, skating rinks, soccer and baseball fields, swimming pools, active trails), effectively locating community centres and services to make them accessible, and organizing activities such as reading development (e.g., Les rendez-vous de la Galette!), celebrations, and summer day camps that bring people together. These are good ways to break isolation and to get citizens to participate in their communities.
Over the years, Mr. Sarrazin has implemented a number of original ideas that continue to bear fruit:
- "Toast and coffee" the morning after municipal council meetings to exchange with citizens;
- monthly awarding of certificates to primary school children who distinguish themselves;
- planting trees and flowers for every primary school graduate (thus contributing to the prevention of vandalism of those facilities);
- parlour game and music evenings for teenagers.
"All of these initiatives contribute to getting to know others, to listening to concerns, and to identifying the issues at stake. Mutual assistance is created and well-being increases," said the mayor.
A tightly knit community takes care of its members, and this reinforces the social net for everyone.
Nathalie et son conjoint Jean-François ont adopté deux enfants par le biais des services d’adoption de la DPJ. Ne pouvant avoir d’enfant et ayant des proches qui avaient fait l’expérience de l’adoption, ils ont décidé d’assister à une rencontre d’information. Ils ont alors eu l’heure juste sur le long processus et les exigences nécessaires pour adopter un enfant, ainsi qu’un portrait des besoins particuliers possibles des enfants dû à leur récente histoire. Le couple a maintenu son choix d’aller de l’avant dans la démarche.
Nathalie se rappelle encore du jour à l’été 2014 lorsque la travailleuse sociale l’a appelée pour lui dire qu’un petit garçon de cinq mois, Raphaël pourrait leur être confié. En allant le visiter dans la famille d’accueil, le petit s’est mis à rire des pitreries de son chum; un lien s’établissait déjà. Raphaël est ensuite arrivé dans son nouveau chez-soi. Un an plus tard, un autre enfant était confié à la famille : Samuel, trois mois.
Raphaël a maintenant 6 ans et Samuel, 4 ans et demi. Même si ces enfants ont besoin de plus de présence, d’encadrement et de stabilité que d’autres enfants – Raphaël souffre d’anxiété et a des troubles de sommeil et Samuel un trouble de langage et aura une évaluation pour le trouble du spectre de l’autisme, ils se développent bien et Nathalie et Jean-François sont fiers d’eux.
Ils déplorent parfois l’incompréhension de l’entourage quant au fait que leurs enfants demandent plus de soins, mais à force de patience, de persévérance et d’amour, et aussi de résilience, ils sont heureux de faire une différence pour leurs enfants.