AP NEWS

Foster Care Review Board helps adopted youths cope with situations

November 26, 2018

BULLHEAD CITY — The Foster Care Review Board is seeking volunteers to help youths from families torn apart by instability find a loving, stable environment.

The ultimate goal is to reunite youths in the foster care system with their families. Board members monitor the progress of the children while these youths are in out-of-home care.

Among questions asked by the volunteers: Is a youth getting any counseling or care that could help them cope with what they might have suffered before coming into the system? Are they in need of clothes or school-related items? Is a trip to the doctor or dentist overdue?

Volunteers also look at how well the biological parents are doing as they attempt to complete court-mandated efforts aimed toward helping them regain custody of their children.

Ninety-five percent of youths are removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system because of substance exposure, said Carol Bigos, a long-time board member and foster parent.

Bigos was an adopted child who took in the children of one of her siblings after she grew up.

She said she is impressed by the resiliency exhibited among youths who have survived “horrible trauma,” stressing that there is often a significant amount of domestic abuse in homes where someone is abusing illegal substances.

Help they receive while in the foster system, especially counseling, allows children who have been removed from their homes to move forward, Bigos said.

The minors exposed to the FCRB appreciate the interest shown in their welfare by the volunteers. One youth invited her to their graduation and another asked her to watch them play in a soccer match.

“To see them with smiles on their face or laughing. That’s what keeps me together,” Bigos said.

A recent addition to one of the Bullhead-area boards, Donna Wiebeck also has found happiness helping these children and their families find their way back together.

“We’re advocating for the whole family. No matter how much a kid has been abused they still love their parents,” she said.

The FCRB makes recommendations to the Juvenile Court and other interested parties — case managers, attorneys, biological parents, foster parents, counselors, licensing workers and Court Appointed Special Advocates.

While family reunification is the ultimate goal, not all families can be brought back together. The adults might not be ready — or willing — to commit to the court-ordered steps toward self-improvement, which may include counseling, treatment or other lifestyle changes, Bigos said.

Not all children can be placed with other family members, either. When it appears that a situation isn’t going to be resolved, then adoption is pursued.

Cases come back to the board once every six months for evaluation of progress until they are resolved. Some cases are no longer brought to the board because a youth is old enough to go out into the world.

The local board is part of the Dependent Children’s Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court and came into being about 40 years ago. There are about 120 such local boards reviewing cases statewide.

Bullhead City has two boards. There are three other such boards in Mohave County: Two in Kingman and one in Lake Havasu City.

The Presiding Judge of Mohave County’s Juvenile Court appoints this county’s board members to three-year terms. Volunteers can request to be reappointed when their term is up.

“Most do,” said Charlie Gray, the supervisor of the statewide review board system.

Bullhead City-area board members hear 10-15 cases a month. Between October 2017 and October 2018 they considered 187 cases regarding the futures of nearly 400 children, Bigos noted.

The Bullhead City boards are in need of volunteers. Both Bigos and Wiebeck urge men, adults who are of parenting age, and people of color to apply for board vacancies. They want future boards to be more diverse, so the growing number of minority families and men parenting on their own can look across the room and more easily see that the people evaluating their situation might share something in common with them, Wiebeck said.

To become a volunteer: Request an application to serve on the board at: www.AZFCRB.org or call Gray at 602-452-3615.

You must be at least 21 years old and be able to pass a fingerprint background check.

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Terri Harber/The Daily News

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Donna Wiebeck and Carol Bigos talk about volunteering to serve on Foster Care Review Boards in Bullhead City.

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Shown are instructional books and other materials — including case information — used to help board volunteers provide recommendations about families with children in the state’s foster care system.

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