Denise Matthews began her foster parent journey eight years ago. With an extensive work history in social services, she was drawn to the idea of helping children in need. “I worked with children and adults with disabilities and in group homes for different agencies over the years. Working with these kids made me want to do more,” she explained. Denise went through UCAN to become a licensed foster parent, and over the years has fostered five children.
Over 15,000 youth are in the care of the State of Illinois; of this number more than 1,300 live in residential facilities and the rest reside in foster homes. For many youth, neglect or a traumatic event has led to this placement, and the transition can be difficult for everyone involved. However, positive connections made during the time of separation from their family are vital to the well-being of the child and foster parents can play a pivotal role in a young person’s development.
Today, 17-year-old Sheldon lives with Denise. “I don’t have any behavior problems out of him,” she said of Sheldon, “but sometimes I think he is in a state of denial. I am working on getting him to graduate from high school and respond to things in a positive way.” Like many children in the care of the state, Sheldon has experienced multiple placements throughout this lifetime. Sheldon has resided with Denise for two years, which has been his longest placement.
A common misconception is that fostering a child is no different than raising your own. Many people overlook the challenges that youth in care experience. UCAN’s program provides extensive trainings on how to care for young people who have experienced trauma. “It helped me to look at things more therapeutically and outside the box. I really appreciate the trainings and I have grown tremendously,” said Denise who added that challenges – with rewards – exist when deciding to become a foster parent: “It is time consuming. You are giving up a lot. You can’t do certain things anymore. You are helping someone else’s child who may not have received help before. This is something that a lot of people need because inclusion is important. No one wants to walk around on this earth without having a connection to somebody. “
What does Denise think of her UCAN experience? “My overview would be positive. I’ve had support from UCAN when needed. They are there when I have any issues or problems that come up. If I need therapy, it is there for me too. There are so many broken homes today and the services that UCAN provides are needed. They have a lot to offer these children. There are so many resources.”
She continued, “Without these agencies, without UCAN, these kids may just be on the street. I would definitely advocate for UCAN.”
For more information on UCAN’s foster parent program, please click here.