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Family Services Department honors Tribal foster parents

BIG CYPRESS — In recognition of National Foster Care Month during May, the Family Preservation program of the Family Services Department recognized the nearly 70 Tribal families who have opened their homes to foster children.

The parents and staff met at the Big Cypress Community Center on May 30 for a special luncheon that honored the parents for their dedication to their Tribe and to the future of their youth.

“It’s an exceptional person, in my opinion, who can step up and take care of someone else’s child,” Family Services director Helene Buster said. “We as a Tribe need to step up and nurture our children. They are our family. They are our future.”

The Family Preservation program provides Seminole children a temporary home when their parents cannot take care of them. The ultimate goal, Buster said, is to reunite the children with their parents.

During the luncheon, Family Services thanked each foster parent with an award, and Councilmen Mondo Tiger and Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. also recognized the parents’ services to the Tribe.

“Without you guys, it wouldn’t be possible for these children to have the lives they have; they would be off the reservation,” Councilman Osceola said. “I’m glad to see you guys are stepping up and carrying on this tradition.”

Family Services has found foster homes for children for more than 15 years, but Family Preservation administrator Kristi Hill said the program continually evolves. The department performs home studies to make sure foster parents can provide safe homes, takes care of legal formalities and visits families regularly to check on children. At any given time, Hill said, they monitor around 100 foster children.

In addition, the department educates the State and the outside world of the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which seeks to keep Indian children with Indian families. According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Congress passed the ICWA in 1978 in response to the high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian Tribes and families.”

“We work hard keeping our children in our communities,” Buster said.

Placing Seminole children in Seminole homes ensures they receive an education in Seminole culture, language and traditions, Hill added.

“Children are the most valuable resource for a Tribe and its existence,” she said.

Tribal member Ella DeHass is one of the foster parents who took on the responsibility of caring for foster children and ensuring they stay within the Seminole Tribe.

Although DeHass said it’s not a decision to take on lightly, she said her life was conducive to becoming a foster parent. She had the time, space and income to do so. But it was her sister, Debbie, who informed her of the growing need to foster Tribal member children through Family Services. She made foster parenting a personal goal and contacted the department to get started.

“I wanted something more in my life,” she said. “It’s a rewarding experience.”

During the last two years, DeHass has cared for six foster children. She is glad she made the commitment to be part of the solution.

“I would encourage every Tribal member to carry on the tradition of families helping families by becoming involved and to make a commitment to assist these young future leaders of the Tribe by providing them with a stable, secure family/home environment,” she said.

The Family Services Department plans to host similar events in the future to demonstrate their continuous appreciation of the foster parents.

“They are the heroes of our Tribe,” Buster said.

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