Viola Su is a Counsellor with FSGV Foster Family Support Services. She’s been with the agency since 2019, supporting foster families as they navigate the ups and downs of parenting during a pandemic. Viola’s previous experience as a behavior interventionist and support worker, as well as a respite caregiver, helped prepare her for a career supporting foster families, and FSGV is grateful for her expertise and compassion. Outside of work, Viola is an avid hiker and loves to travel.
When substance use, mental health challenges, or violence impact a family’s ability to safely care for their child, FSGV works with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to help find the right placement for them. While each child’s family situation is unique, temporary and long-term foster placements with another family member or caregivers create a safe place for them.
Counsellors like Viola are there to support families when they are caring for a child. For Foster Family Appreciation Week, we spoke to Viola to learn more about how she supports foster families.
What drew you to a career working with foster families?
My previous work experiences were specifically related to working with children with special needs. When I worked as a behavior support worker, my job was to take care of children who are particularly behaviorally challenging. It was similar to foster parents, but I didn’t live with the children together, and I could go home after work. It was a tough job, providing care to children and managing their behaviors at the same time.
During that time, I saw children and youth moved around to different homes because they couldn’t find a stable place. I also understand the challenge of caring for children who are in need. So I wanted to support foster parents to care for their children and promote a stable and loving home for children in care.
Describe your role. What does a typical week as a foster family counsellor look like?
Counselling work is repetitive. I mainly have counselling sessions with clients, provide counselling, therapeutic, behavior support consultation, and parenting support. Because of COVID, the meetings are mainly held virtually and by phone. Sometimes, I also meet with clients in the office and in the community.
After meetings, I spend some time on paperwork, like updating meeting notes and writing reports. It also gives me some time to wrap up and get ready for my next meeting. Some clients may have more specific needs, such as food support or daycare, and I will help them to find appropriate resources.
So I usually spend time in looking into online resources, and contact agencies to connect them with my clients. Because all referrals come from MCFD, I have meetings with social workers to have a brief update about clients and discuss any issues about our mutual clients. Also, I have meetings with community partners to organize community events and host community kitchen for foster parents.
For people who are considering becoming a foster parent, how long does the application process take? What’s involved? Can you recommend any resources?
The process is basically five steps. It really depends on the case, but it typically takes around six months to complete the process – possibly longer or shorter. Prospective foster parents can contact BC Federation of Foster Parents Association (BCFFPA) or local recruitment offices to ask for information first. Then, they can attend an information session where they will be given an application package. Once they submit the package, the application process will start.
Next are references check, medical checks, a criminal record check, and prior contact check. After these, candidates will be asked to participate in Parent Resources for Information Development and Education (PRIDE) pre-service training, a 36-hour training. Finally, a social worker will do in-home interviews. After all of this, the fostering journey begins.
You can also learn more about fostering through the Government of BC.
What should foster families expect once they have a child or children at home? Is there ongoing education and support?
It really depends, as every child and every family will be different. I would say foster parents can expect they will have a child or children who is/are looking for a safe and caring home. Also, foster parents are not only “parents” but also “professional workers”. They will also need to do monthly reports, and connect with social workers and other professionals who are involved in the child’s life to ensure the healthy development of the child/children. They are also required to continue obtaining professional knowledge in order to better support the children.
There are ongoing supports and education available for foster parents, such as FSGV Foster Family Support Services. Hollyburn Family Services and Milieu Family Services also provide education and group supports to foster parents. Foster parents can ask their resource social worker to make a referral for them. We also have community kitchens and youth kitchens where foster parents and youth-in-care can connect with each other and cook together. Ongoing education is a requirement for foster parents as well, and they are required to complete at least 40 hours of professional training per year.
In your experience, are there any misconceptions about what it means to foster?
Some people may think that fostering a child will be like raising their own child or babysitting. Actually, fostering a child is not similar to babysitting or raising their own child, it is rewarding but definitely demanding. Because children come into care for a reason – some may have faced abuse or trauma, and some children have challenging behaviors – fostering a child requires lots of love, effective tools, and patience. Also, because of the complexity of fostering a child, foster parents usually come from variety of backgrounds with different skills and qualities. Some may have experience working with victims of abuse, while others have a medical or nursing background. Foster parents are professional workers.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
The most satisfying part is when I can see foster parents’ and children’s smiling faces, hearing them tell me that they are happy to have their foster parents/children.