Jacqueline Lambert started fostering children when she was 19, not through any agency, just helping out friends and family. Since 16, she tutored younger kids and baby-sat. When she was 38, she saw an ad for a professional foster parent and applied.
For the last two years, Jacqueline has worked in that role, which entails taking in a child with severe behavioral challenges and acting as what is called a treatment foster parent. She also taps into community resources.
The goal of the program, which is a full-time job through the child welfare agency St. Aemilian-Lakeside, is to transition a child within a year back to his or her home, to a longer-term foster care setting, or to an independent living program that supports youth who are aging out of foster care.
Jacqueline, a single professional with a master’s degree in educational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in sociology, has had a 16-year-old girl with her since last December. Previously she had a 14-year-old. Although she is highly trained, the lessons she has learned working with children who have suffered trauma such as abuse and neglect are pertinent for any treatment foster parent – or the parent of any child.
And the rewards she achieves are great: just getting her foster child to go to school regularly is a big one. Getting a child to sit properly at a table may seem small but can be a really gratifying sign of progress, she said.
“I love working with kids and knowing the progress they make is coming from something I’m helping them with.”
Treatment foster kids may not often say thanks, but actions speak louder than words. After the first girl she fostered moved back home, Jacqueline found a paper she had written on who is her hero in life – naming Jacqueline.
“I knew I had an impact, I just didn’t know it was that much or that she felt that way,” Jacqueline said.
How does she help kids progress? Rather than giving them just rules, she gives them expectations, allows them to make mistakes, and rewards success – but not all the time, to keep them on their toes. She teaches that you may not always like the things you have to do in life – like going to a therapy session – but in the end, these things are necessary and beneficial.
The biggest challenge working with troubled adolescents, she says, is getting them to take responsibility for their own actions, “because, in life, there are consequences for everything you do, whether good or bad.”
When people ask her about becoming a treatment foster parent, she tells them the most important thing is willingness to focus a lot of time and attention on the child. It’s a choice she freely made.
“I pick the child everyone says is the worst child,” she said smiling. “But I know that everybody has something good in them. You just have to see it — and then you have to show it to them.”
For more information on becoming a treatment foster parent, call 414-463-1880, ext. 200, or go to www.st-al.org.