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Same-Sex Foster Parents in Rhode Island

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Feb 7, 2009

Foster parents are given the enormous responsibility of providing a safe, stable environment for children who have been removed from their homes due to neglect or parental abuse.
In Rhode Island, the state's Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) licenses homes for foster parents and provides referrals to various agencies.
Family Service of Rhode Island, based in Providence, provides a variety of programs, including placing children into foster care.
Children ages 6 through 14 are placed in foster homes all over the state. Family Service has done more than 20 placements in the last year. There have also been 2 adoptions arranged by the agency.
Deb and Anna O'Donnell-Lee of Cumberland have been foster parents for the last five years. They are raising two teenage girls, one of them adopted.
The couple reflected on the special times they have had raising foster children.
"It's a learning experience," noted Deb. "Every child that comes in the home has different needs."
One of the girls in their care had been traumatized after being removed from her former home. She did not speak to Deb or Anna at first and did poorly in school.
It took awhile for the child to accept her new environment and to place her trust in her new parents.
Quite often, children are hesitant to open themselves up emotionally to their foster parents due to their fears of being rejected.
The O'Donnell-Lees believe it takes time and patience to create a positive change in a foster child.
"They need to be," Deb said. "To find themselves because the amount of education you have is not going to do anything for these kids. They have to learn for themselves that 'I am safe here. These people do love me. They take the time to teach me things.' Because if you pressure these kids, they're going to back away."
The training provided by Family Service was extremely beneficial for the couple.
"A lot of information came out of those meetings, things you wouldn't even think of," Deb said.
When a child shows gratitude to their foster parents, the sense of fulfillment is overwhelming. The O'Donnell-Lees have received much love and affection from the children they have raised.
"I can't even describe the feeling when you've done something good and they say (things) to you and you've made a difference," Anna said. "The rewards are tremendous."
Family Service of Rhode Island is searching for people willing to become foster parents. Applicants need to be at least 25 years of age to apply for the agency's foster parent program.
"Recruitment is a challenge," acknowledged Stephen Hug, Senior Vice-President of Development and Communications at Family Service. "We are actively searching for all types of foster parents. We don't discriminate against anybody."
The application process lasts a few months. Candidates are subjected to background checks, medical clearances, and must provide references. A case worker performs an inspection of the home to guarantee the home is suitable for the child.
"Children need a therapeutic environment," explained Greg Wright, a Program Coordinator at Family Service.
Wright said there was a "matching process" where the strengths and structure of the family are evaluated to determine the most appropriate environment for the child.
Not all foster parents intend to adopt children, Wright noted, adding: "They're just looking to help someone."
Family Service assists foster parents by offering crisis intervention provided by trained mental health workers.
There are also weekly visits by a case manager, who works with the family to help the foster child adapt to their new environment. Financial assistance is also offered to assist with expenses.
In addition, the agency helps clients to stay in contact with their biological parents whenever possible.
For more information about the foster parent program at Family Service of Rhode Island, contact Greg Wright by calling 401-331-1350, ext. 3305 or by e-mail at
The agency's web site is

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


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