Even in a tight-knit community like Lanai, home environments may become unsafe or unstable for children. In these unfortunate situations, licensed foster parents step in to provide temporary care. Also known as family resource caregivers, foster families not only offer a secure place to live but also offer support and comfort to kids in need.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge the caregivers, volunteers, child welfare professionals, and other compassionate individuals who look out for the well-being of youth in the community.
A year-round mission for foster care
For Kelli Gima, foster care awareness is a year-round mission. She serves as Lanai’s only child and adult protective services specialist, working to ensure the foster system on Lanai has enough certified resource caregivers to help children in need.
Historically, kids from Lanai were sent to live with foster families on Molokai or Maui because there weren’t enough licensed caregivers on island. Over time, support for the system grew, and there are now eight licensed resource homes. One local couple, Shelly and Jarrod Barfield, highlighted in a previous article on foster care, became a foster family in 2004 and have opened their home to 9 children throughout the years.
“We haven’t had to send children off island in a while because compassionate members from our community stepped up to get licensed,” said Gima.
Growing the foster family network on Lanai
While there is a solid network of family resource caregivers on Lanai, Gima asserts that there is still a need for more foster families so that children can continue to remain on the island and within the community.
Although recruiting more licensed foster families can sometimes be a challenge on an island with a small population, Gima explains that Lanai has an advantage over the other islands. For a child, moving from the only home he or she has ever known can be a terrifying experience. But on Lanai, even if a child moves to a resource caregiver’s house across town, he or she will attend the same school and see the same familiar faces. That consistency is key to overcoming trauma and obstacles.
Bringing biological families back together
The ultimate goal for foster care is reunification. There have been numerous success stories where Lanai children were able to reunite with their biological families. One case in particular sticks out to Gima because of the quick, positive outcome and the support from extended family and community partners.
“These parents had drug and alcohol challenges,” explained Gima. “However, they admitted to their issues, quickly enrolled in programs, got clean and sober, and within 10 months, the children were home.”
According to Gima, it was a community effort and different partner organizations, like Parents and Children Together, played a role in helping families like this one get back on track. The fact that the licensed caregivers were part of the child’s extended ohana also contributed to the positive outcome. Children who are placed with extended family will often have an easier time adjusting.
How you can help
There are many resources for those who want to help foster a child in need, including financial assistance from the Department of Human Services. The first step is to obtain a license through the Hawaii State Department of Human Services.
Ideal resource caregivers fit the following criteria:
- Planning to reside on Lanai for at least two years
- Willing to help children recover from potential trauma
- Able to provide consistent daily routines and support from adults in the household
- Provide a stable home environment that is safe and free of hazards
- Provide space for a single or shared bedroom
- Able to complete a criminal and child abuse and neglect background check
- Income must cover usual household expenses
If you are interested in opening your home to foster children, or want to learn how you can help, explore these resources:
Department of Human Services
Kelli Gima, Child and Adult Protective Services Specialist
Dole Admin Building, Suite 121