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Monday, January 29, 2007
Program Brings Parents Together
By Leann Holt
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    When they met in the middle of a stark hallway, the tension was palpable. The mother was crying, hesitant to make eye contact with DaVidia, the woman who had taken her place.
    Half an hour later, the two were embracing, whispering reassurances to each other.
    The change was a result of Ice Breakers, a new program that brings together mothers who have lost their children to the state's custody and the foster parents who take those children into their homes.
    The goal of the 5-month-old Children, Youth and Families program is to make transition into and out of foster care as painless as possible for children.
    The meetings are a crash course on the nature of the child— favorite foods, nicknames, medical conditions, special toys— from mom to foster mom.
    And foster moms have a chance to begin a relationship with a biological mom that will keep her involved in her children's lives as she works to get her own life together.
    "I think we'll see a higher ratio of kids returned home because we'll have more motivated parents," said Sarah Palmer, a CYFD employee who facilitates Ice Breakers. "It empowers the bio-parents and allows the fosters to model parenting for them."
    When DaVidia and the biological mother of the two toddlers she was providing foster care for sat down across a table from each other, Mom talked rapidly while she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
    "They like warm tea and they like to be held," she said. "They are allergic to dairy. He likes trucks."
    DaVidia said she had noticed that about the trucks.
    "Is it OK if I take them to church?" she asked Mom. "I'd like to give their hair a trim. We have your picture hanging up."
    DaVidia and Mom arranged to communicate through a notebook that will be exchanged during her visits with the children. She will go to the children's doctor's appointments with DaVidia.
    Palmer said such conversations help make things better for the children.
    "It's like when divorced parents are not fighting— the kids can relax," she said. "There's something about bringing them together and reminding them it's for the children."
    Foster parents had taken it upon themselves to connect with biological families long before there was a formal program in place, Palmer said.
    One of those families, which now participates in Ice Breakers, is Shari Linsley and Kelly Krauth. The foster parents kept in close contact with Leonor Chavez during the 15 months they cared for her infant son.
    Now that the toddler is reunited with his mother, they provide friendship and respite care for Chavez when things get rough.
    "We love him and we want to be there to be a stable factor in his life," Linsley said. "Leonor knows if she gets in a bind, she can give us a call."
    Chavez said she is grateful for her son's foster parents.
    "I am very thankful that there was someone out there to give love and attention to a child when I wasn't able to," she said. "Without them, nobody would have done that."
    While Ice Breakers is designed to help children, the meetings are important for the grown-ups involved, too. They have a chance to see each other as human beings rather than "three-headed monsters," Palmer said.
    Foster parents say they try not to judge biological parents who have lost their children because of abuse or neglect.
    "You're wondering— I've got somebody's kids and I don't even know where they came from and what happened and if their parents even love them or not," said foster mother Olga Baca, one of the first to participate in Ice Breakers.
    "Then, I meet (Mom) and I know deep in her heart, she has all the love for her son. Things had gone bad for her, and things are complicated in her life."
    For biological parents, meetings can replace feelings of helplessness with gratefulness that someone is there to help.
    "I was nervous to come here because I've heard some scary things about foster care," said the toddler's mom after her Ice Breaker with DiVidia. "I feel warm in my heart now because I know (the children) are in a safe place."
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