Two women from North Preston and Cherry Brook have been recognized for their work as the most tenured foster parents in the Halifax area.
Viola Cain and June Ross were honoured for their 75 combined years as foster parents at a recent foster families appreciation banquet.
“The reason I became a foster parent is that there were a lot of kids that needed care and there weren't enough foster parents," said Ross in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. "I did it for the need, and I’m so happy that I did. That was 35 years ago, and I’m still doing it.”
The banquet, which was hosted by the Federation of Foster Families Nova Scotia as part of Foster Families Appreciation Week, recognized Nova Scotia foster parents for every five years of their service.
In a news release about Foster Families Appreciation Week, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane wrote, in part: "Foster caregivers are a pillar of the child welfare system — they give children and youth in care a foundation, a sense of security and love during a potentially turbulent time in their lives ... Being a foster caregiver isn’t just a volunteer role. It is a calling that reaches out to people with big hearts who open their homes to those in need."
In 1981, Cain was working as a community aid worker in North Preston in the church that also housed the community’s daycare.
“I didn’t have a dream that I was going to be taking care of any kids,” Cain said.
That changed when she noticed a picture at her work of a little boy with a teardrop falling from his eye.
“The next morning, I just kept looking at the picture and [my co-worker] kept saying, ‘What’s so special about this picture?'’’ Cain said. “I don’t know why but I just kept looking at it.”
Cain said she remembers people teasing her saying that there were a lot of spirits in the church, but that one day the teardrop in the picture appeared real. She took it as a sign from God that she was to take care of children.
Cain said another coworker convinced her to apply to be a foster parent.
Cain went on to work on an oil rig for a period before moving back home. During that time, she forgot about applying to become a foster parent until a social worker showed up at her door one day, asking if she was still interested in taking care of children.
“I said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ She said, 'How long would it take you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how long it could take me, it could take me years or it could take me a second.’ She said, ‘OK, a second, you got it.’ I said, ‘Got what?’ And then she brought these two little guys in,” said Cain.
The two little boys were brothers, aged four and five. She took them in as foster children and later went on to legally adopt them.
A few years later, a three-year-old little boy with many medical issues was placed in her care.
“The doctor said that because he had so many issues he wouldn’t live to see his 10th birthday,” Cain said. “I did take him, and I adopted him, and he just turned 41.”
Cain's been a foster parent now for 40 years.
Ross, who is a daycare worker, talked about why she first became a foster parent.
“I used to always be out and around the community, and at the library, and you just hear things, she said. “So, I just said I’m gonna check it out. I didn’t know at that time if I could even become a foster parent. But I applied and I was approved. That was 35 years ago.”
Ross said she’s fostered many children over the years while raising her own two sons, who are now 44 and 28. She’s remained in contact with many of her foster children over the years.
Like Ross, Cain also fostered children while raising her own six children, including three children she adopted from two of her siblings.
“I was the only foster home in North Preston for I’d say maybe close to about 15 or 20 years,” Cain said. “In my community now we have about seven Black homes now in North Preston.”
Though they eventually started to take children of different races into their care, Cain and Ross both said it’s mostly Black children placed in their care, and that there’s value in that.
“I would like to encourage more Black homes [to become foster families] because now I’m seeing more Black kids being put into care,” said Cain.
Cain currently works for the Department of Community Services as a peer support worker for new foster parents. For years, she recruited and recommended new foster parents.
She said the system of approving foster parents has improved, but she recalls losing opportunities to place children with suitable parents in the past.
“A lot of homes that I recommended had issues way back. Like, say even if you had a little small thing like you were shoplifting when you were in your teens. They were going back and checking on that stuff," Cain said.
"That shouldn’t matter if you wanted to be a foster home. But there were a lot of people who were turned down because they wouldn’t approve of them.”
Cain said she feels it’s important for younger Black people to consider becoming foster parents.
“I would like to keep the [Black] kids in Black homes because our culture is different,” Cain said. “A couple of the Black kids that I took care of, when they came into my care, they were brought up in a white home and I had to teach them all about our culture.”
Cain and Ross both said they welcome all children into their homes with the same amount of care and love.
“Most of the children that I get now they’re just in a rough spot for a minute, and I just like to take them into my home and provide whatever support that I can do until they’re ready to go back home to Mom or Dad or to their family,” Ross said.
“They’re just regular everyday kids who just need somebody. And I’m so happy that I’m that person. We just do whatever we can do to make their transition back home as easy as possible.”
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner