Local couple making a difference in kids’ lives through foster care
by Christian Avard
Kelly Last, left, and Cliff Turpin, right, along with “Tony,” one of their many foster children.
DOVER- Cliff Turpin and Kelly Last, of Dover, are a couple making a difference. They are participating in a local foster care program and are one of many families in the Deerfield Valley helping children and young adults develop the skills they need to live healthy, independent, and confident lives. Now the program is in need of community members who can provide foster care to local children without committing 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “From our experience, there are so many young kids in foster care in our area and many more need foster parents. The need is so great in our area,” said Turpin.
Turpin and Last became foster parents through the Northeast Family Institute of Brattleboro. The NFI’s goal is “To create community environments based upon principles of dignity and respect that help children, adults and families to grow and change in order to better their lives and the world around them.” NFI works with foster parents and children to build positive communities; create a sense of collective ability to deal with issues; celebrate educational achievement and personal growth; and solve community issues or problems. “There are hundreds of children who are in and out of home situations. We take some of the toughest cases at NFI and our job is to assess the kids, match them in therapeutic homes in Windham County, and eventually reunite them with their families,” said NFI resource coordinator Lydia Mahan.
Turpin and Last thought about adopting a child but chose to participate in NFI’s foster care program instead. Turpin said the adoption process was a long process to go through and there were just as many children in search of foster care. “There are more families willing to do adopting than fostering and (Kelly and I) thought that fostering was the better thing to do. We can reach out and help a lot more kids that way,” said Turpin.
For eight years, Turpin and Last have raised and mentored nine boys. They now have two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old and Turpin said foster care has worked out well for both of them. “We generally raise boys and young men for the long term or until the state decides it’s time for reunification with the family or when they turn 18. There’s a certain dedication level from a person who wants to be a foster parent. There is work involved, but it doesn’t consume your life. It’s about working with the young men and having them become a part of your family,” said Turpin.
According to Mahan, participating as a foster parent “is not insurmountable.” She said the work can be challenging but not static. “Folks who enjoy parenting can do this as well as parents who don’t have biological children. You can be single and have experience or no experience parenting. You learn as you go,” said Mahan.
The NFI offers several trainings to full- and part-time foster care parents. NFI offers $1,500 monthly stipends and NFI staff works directly with parents and the children they support. Those wishing to participate as part-time foster parents can take part in weekend respite programs. NFI offers $50 a night and Mahan said foster children still benefit even if it is just a weekend stay. “There is a real need for these places. It’s a break for the kids as well as foster parents,” said Mahan.
Staff support is available to foster care parents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to NFI regional director Tami Sicard, training is flexible to accommodate parents with busy schedules. All parents must complete 28 hours of training and NFI offers online and direct training in a classroom setting. “We ask them to participate in our learning. We insist that parents become their own experts, learn about trauma and the child, and provide guidance with love and kindness. That’s the kind of learning you can take wherever,” said Sicard.
Sicard acknowledges foster parenting may not be for everyone but people who participate do make a difference in a foster child’s life. She said the positive effects of foster parenting often manifest themselves over time and patience is the key to making it work. “Sometimes people are afraid to bring in a foster care child because they won’t feel like they’re accomplishing anything. I think that’s a myth,” said Sicard. “I hear from parents all the time why they do this work. It always comes down to ‘This feels good that (so-and-so) is able to do school now or sleep through the night and have meaningful relationships.’ They’re part of that therapeutic team and they take part in therapy. That’s the greatest satisfaction they come away with.”
Turpin agrees with Sicard’s observation. One of their nine foster children came from dire circumstances and overcame a lot of adversity growing up. Turpin said the young man graduated from high school and is now enrolled at the College of Saint Joseph in Rutland. He has reunited with his biological parents and is doing well. “This is one of the achievements we like to see and we want all of our boys to do,” said Turpin. “They become very independent and can work and think through difficult situations on their own. It’s nice to know you’ve made a success in that man’s life.”
For more information on NFI full- and part-time foster parenting programs call Mahan at (802) 254-2558 or e-mail email@example.com.
Read more: Deerfield Valley News - Local couple making a difference in kids’ lives through foster care