They say it takes a village to raise a child. On Lanai, a few foster families have taken that old adage to heart and opened their homes to children in need. Also known as resource caregivers, foster families offer a safe and stable home for children when their parents or guardians have been deemed unfit to provide care for them by the state.
Kelli Gima, with the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, is Lanai’s only child and adult protective services specialist. She coordinates all foster care activity on the island by placing foster children with resource caregivers.
“Our community needs to knows that child abuse and neglect is an issue in our community, though it is not always visible,” Gima said. “We have a need for families to become licensed resource care givers.”
The Department of Human Services partners with Hui Ho’omalu, a local non-profit and program of the Partners in Development Foundation, to recruit, train and assess families interested in providing foster care for children on Lanai. Stephanie Helbush, community relations manager with the non-profit, oversees recruitment of families statewide and emphasizes that there is an urgency to increase the number of resource caregivers on Lanai.
“Just a couple months ago we only had one family, they were able to take a few children because they had space. If there is not a home available on Lanai, we have to move them off island.”
According to the Children’s Action Network, evidence shows that children perform better when they remain in their community with access to friends, extended family, and school. For this reason, Gima and Hui Ho’omalu are committed to identifying and bringing more families into the foster family system on Lanai.
One Lanai family’s experience as resource caregivers
A local couple, Shelly and Jarrod Barfield, have been resource caregivers on Lanai since 2004 when they took in their two nieces. In 2014, they opened their home again to three sisters who would have been transferred off-island due to the lack of foster families on Lanai.
“We have fostered nine girls so far,” explained Shelly Barfield. “The most rewarding part of being a foster parent is that these kids remember you forever. Even after they leave our home, they share their accomplishments with us, give us hugs and ask for advice when they need it.”
As resource caregivers, the Barfields found they were supported by the community in the form of donations and by working closely with Gima.
“Kelli is very good at staying on top of things,” noted Barfield. “If we have concerns she is there in a heartbeat.
Becoming a resource caregiver
Families interested in becoming resource caregivers may contact Hui Ho’omalu by phone at (808) 268-5122 or online. After answering a few questions and submitting an application, the organization then visits the family and conducts interviews.
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 household
- Provide a stable home environment that is safe and free of hazards
- Provide space for a single or shared bedroom
If a family’s application is accepted, they are provided with 18 hours of in-person training. The entire licensing process takes between 60 and 90 days. After licensure, the family works directly with Gima to transition children into their homes.
Hui Ho’omalu provides foster families with room and board reimbursement to help cover expenses, which amounts to about $600 per month. Additional reimbursement is available for clothing, extracurricular activities, medical insurance for the children, and ongoing training. Support groups are also available through Family Programs Hawaii, Parents and Children Together (PACT) and Maui Family Support Services.
On the ground support
Becoming a resource caregiver for a child is no easy task, and Gima is keenly aware of the challenges that come with it. She works to provide support for foster families as they transition their home to host a child. With each new case, Gima helps with the licensing file, schedules monthly home visits, and coordinates program enrollment with services such as counseling, parenting classes and outpatient care.
“Without foster families I could not do my job,” Gima said. “I take pride in being there for my foster families 24/7 and always answer my phone when they call.”
Each foster care case is complex, and Gima and her social service partners face challenges every day. Fortunately, all of Lanai’s social service agencies are located in one building, allowing them to meet consistently and provide a continuum of care for parents and children.
“When you collaborate the way we do, you can make a strong case plan. That’s the key to our success.”
Through the hard work of foster families and social services, no child has been transferred to a home off island in four years. Today, Lanai has seven children in foster care, and five children have been placed permanently with adoptive parents or guardians.
However, there is still a need for resource caregivers on the island. If you are interested in opening your home to foster children, explore these resources:
Department of Human Services
Kelli Gima, Child and Adult Protective Services Specialist
Dole Admin Building, Suite 121