State now lets foster parents off for court
Employees can take time for hearings as they take care of kids not their own
Jamie and Gina Wataru became foster parents six years ago when they decided they wanted a fourth child.
The Hawaii Kai residents, who have three biological children, soon found a few things working against them. One difficulty was getting off work to attend Family Court hearings.
HOW TO HELP
People interested in becoming a foster parent can call 441-1117 on Oahu or (888) 879-8970 toll-free on the neighbor islands.
"I had a lot of opinions about the system and complained a lot to my wife and friends," said Jamie, a plumber for the Department of Education.
Fortunately, his opinions did not fall on deaf ears.
Gov. Linda Lingle signed a directive yesterday that grants administrative leave to state employees who are licensed foster parents so they can attend Family Court hearings involving their foster children. The directive will allow state employees to take up to eight hours of paid administrative leave per calendar year for Family Court.
"There are very specific kinds of things we can do to make a difference," said Lingle about the government support for foster families. "Foster parents play a key role in our community."
There are more than 2,100 foster children in the state, according to Lillian Koller, director of the Department of Human Services.
"Our foster parents are often involved in making critical life decisions for these children, so it is important that they are able to attend Family Court hearings and offer their insights and recommendations to the judge," Koller said.
There is a great need for Hawaiian foster parents in particular, because more than 50 percent of the children in the foster care program are of native Hawaiian ancestry, she said.
Massachusetts and Texas are the only two other states in the nation to have this kind of directive.
The Watarus, now parents of two adopted boys, Jace, 5, and Joey, 2, will not benefit from the new directive, but their efforts will ease some burdens on future foster parents. For Wataru the most rewarding part of being a foster parent is "knowing that we've been able to give these kids a chance."
"I encourage any of you who thought of becoming a foster parent to look into it," Wataru said. "I promise you won't regret it."