Making a special commitment

HOUGHTON – Cassie Harris-Berryman and her husband, Erik Berryman, were trying to play with their 15-month old foster child in the Hancock office of U.P. Kids, but he kept wanting to be picked up by Erik.

The couple have been foster parents for about three years, and currently they have six foster children living with them and their five biological children.

One of those six children is the 15-month-old Baby O (That name is being used to protect his identity and that of his birth parents.), who is considered medically fragile because he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

“We’ve had him since birth,” Harris-Berryman said.

Harris-Berryman said she and Erik are foster parents because they see a need in the area not completely filled. As a nurse, Harris-Berryman said she’s able to deal with Baby O’s special needs.

Kaitlin Voight, foster care specialist for U.P. Kids, formerly the Goodwill Farm in Houghton, said although it’s helpful Harris-Berryman does have medical training, it isn’t a requirement to be a foster parent for a child who is medically fragile.

“We have many foster parents with medically fragile kids who don’t have training,” she said.

Voight said when someone contacts child protective services to voice concerns a child may be abused or isn’t being adequately cared for, and CPS representatives determine that to be the case, the Michigan Department of Human Services then gets involved.

“DHS goes through the courts to get jurisdiction,” she said.

After DHS gets jurisdiction, Voight said U.P. Kids is contacted and tries to find foster parents for the child.

There are currently 13 children in foster care with six foster parents through U.P. Kids, which covers Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties, Voight said.

Becoming a foster parent involves quite a bit of paperwork and interviews, Voight said.

“There’s a whole, big process,” she said. “There’s a whole, big packet of questions.”

A background check of the potential foster parents is conducted, Voight said, and they are required to take physical examinations to make certain they’re physically able to take on the responsibility of being a foster parent. Other people living in the applicants’ house are also interviewed.

Harris-Berryman said U.P. Kids provides help for people who have never been foster parents before.

“U.P. Kids offers many training sessions,” she said.

Voight said that support is through U.P. Kids Foster Family Support Services.

“Once every month, we will have training from 6 to 8 p.m.,” she said.

That includes trauma training and other instruction parents have asked for, Voight said.

Harris-Berryman said that training is very important.

“It’s a must,” she said. “They have to know you can take care of the child.”

Harris-Berryman said she and Erik have been approved to adopt Baby O effective Friday. They already adopted his older sister.

Becoming a foster parent is a serious commitment, but worth the effort.

“It’s not just a couple months, it’s a lifetime,” she said. “It’s definitely rewarding.”

Voight said those interested in becoming a foster parent should contact U.P. Kids at 487-9832, and ask for Linda Sanchez.