They take turns in the night getting up for a foster child who is on a monitor and requires 24-hour care.
It’s all in a day’s work – they call it a labour of love – for seniors Tom and Jean Leboe. In the past 26 years the Prince George couple has looked after 66 children, many of them special needs.
In 2006 they were awarded the Community Achievement Award for their key role and dedication in looking after foster children.
“We started out with three little girls. We had put in our application with the [Families and Children] ministry to become foster parents and about a year later they brought us a baby 10 months old... and then we got two older children who were her siblings,” said Jean.
Along with their own son Chris, now 32, the Leboes have formally adopted one foster child and raised another one until she was old enough to leave home.
“She is 26 years now, is working and has two children – so that makes us grandparents,” says Jean, smiling at Tom. One thing both of them stress is that when the time comes, foster parents have to be prepared to let go.
“You have to meet a certain standard of care which includes taking care of their needs, buying them things, taking them to sports activities. But in the back of your mind you have to remember the goal in many cases is for the child to one day be returned to its natural parents who may not be able to provide as much. And you have to be strong enough emotionally to let go when the time comes for them to move forward in their life.”
There is more than enough love to go around, Jean says.
“Sometimes with special needs children requiring so much time and care, the foster parents’ own children may feel a little left out, so you have to be aware of that when you take on the commitment but I think they learn so much from each. They (social workers) initially tell you not to get too attached. But each child – whether they stay a few days or a few years – has a bit of your heart. They leave an imprint.”
Raising foster children today is more challenging than it was when they first started out, she says.
“It’s always a learning process. I have a nursing background so I have that advantage but we didn’t know as much two decades ago about conditions like fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and drug-addicted babies as we do know. So you have to keep your knowledge and skills up.”
The rewards of foster parenting are many.
“When you see them smile, grow, do well in school, it is a good feeling. The child has already had a loss in their life not being with their parents. It’s like you have helped to fill a hole in their heart. We are 60 and 65 and we’re still going to parenting classes.”
She says it helps to have a very stable life and relationship when you are a foster parent although singles can make excellent foster parents too.
“There are demands on your time, lifestyle and energy. The ministry does offer some respite time, but mostly it is up to you. And you can’t just do things with foster kids on the spur of the moment, it has to be planned.”
October is Foster Parent Month and there are several events planned for PG to applaud this hard working group of people. Today (Friday, Oct. 19) is Recruitment Kickoff event at Two Rivers Gallery.
The event runs from noon to 2 p.m., light lunch provided. Everyone is welcome.