Gage Park native Renee Lehocky, director of strategic initiatives for Lawrence Hall, spoke to prospective foster parents at the Foster Care Recruitment Picnic in 2022. (Supplied photos)

Gage Park native Renee Lehocky, director of strategic initiatives for Lawrence Hall, spoke to prospective foster parents at the Foster Care Recruitment Picnic in 2022. (Supplied photos)

Prospective foster parents receive advice, support

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Former “youths in care” shared their experiences about growing up in foster care at the Foster Care Recruitment Picnic held in 2022 at the Thatcher Woods Pavilion.

By Dermot Connolly

Prospective foster parents can meet agency representatives and young adults  who have gone through the system during a Foster Care Recruitment Picnic being held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at the Thatcher Woods Pavilion in River Forest.

Eight social service agencies that make up the Chicagoland Foster Care

Recruitment Collective are co-hosting the free event at 8030 W. Chicago Ave. with the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

It will feature an 11 a.m. panel discussion in the pavilion led by former “youth in care” who will share their experiences and advice from the perspective of young adults who have grown up in the foster-care system.

In addition to learning about becoming a foster parent, the family picnic will Include many fun activities, including a hot dog lunch, raffles, a DJ providing music, and other games and activities for children and families. Archery and kite-making are among the outdoor activities offered to kids of various ages by the Forest Preserve District.

Two other non-profits, Earth Remedies and Master Gardeners, will also be offering activities outside. The organizers are hoping for sunny weather, but there is plenty of room in the pavilion if rain does come.

The event is designed to serve as a “one-stop shop” for prospective parents to meet with representatives of eight diverse social service agencies — Kaleidoscope, Kids Above All, Little City Foster Care, Hephzibah Children’s Association, Lawrence Hall, SOS Children’s Villages of Illinois and UCAN. They will all have booths where prospective parents can meet representatives and learn more about all the agencies.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear from former youth in care, licensed foster parents, and talk with these eight agencies about fostering,” said Olivia

DelGiudice, program administrator for Kaleidoscope, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “Getting to talk to the former youths in care is great, too.”

All foster parents must meet certain requirements to be licensed through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, such as being at least 21 years old and having 40 hours of DCFS training. They then register with one of the non-profits that contract with DCFS and serve as “supervising agencies.” These sometimes have additional requirements and training of their own, depending on their focus. This is why group events like this are helpful.

“I don’t know of any other place where prospective parents can meet with so many licensing agencies at once, to see which one would be the best fit. It can be quite time-consuming to visit each one individually,” said DelGiudice about the third annual event.

The Collaborative was formed in 2016 to coordinate events like this, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans so the first one was held in 2021. Two were held in 2022, including one at Dan Ryan Woods.

“Recruitment is important because at any given time there is a shortage of homes for children and youth in care in Illinois. As of April, there were 20,448 youth in care in the state of Illinois and not enough homes,” said DelGiudice.

“Just go for it. Just do it,” said Burbank foster parent Luz Karpinski, when asked

how she would advise people thinking about becoming one. She and her husband, Pawel, became foster parents last year to 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

They did not know the children would become available for adoption when they took them in, but they did and the Karpinskis plan to officially adopt them this summer.

“We have been extremely blessed. They complete our family,” Karpinski said. “We’re Christian and felt God had a purpose for our lives and giving them a home is it.

“It is a great gift to be able to open our arms to us. And they do the same for us.

We’ve got quite the mix,” she said with a laugh, noting that she is Latina, her husband is Polish and the children are African-American.

“The whole family has welcomed them,” she said, adding that the twins call

Pawel’s mother “babcia,” which is Polish for “grandma.”

“We decided to choose foster care after talking to friends who had done it, and the process was pretty smooth,” she explained.

“We did it at an older age, in our 40s, so some of our friends already have grandchildren. But we enjoy the busy weekends,” she said, looking forward to a busy Saturday taking her son to soccer practice in the morning and attending her daughter’s ballet recital in the afternoon.

More information and registration for the free event may be obtained at FPRthatcher.eventbrite.com.

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