It is estimated that one in six people are born with some type of developmental disability. Since 1981, Toward Maximum Independence has provided independent living services, serving as a vendor with the San Diego Regional Center. TMI, like many other nonprofit agencies has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as its search for resource families (foster care families) has declined. TMI supports youth and adults ages 0-22 with intellectual and developmental disabilities that are unable to remain with their family of origin.
Director of Family Support Services Paola Osuna said its resource family program is its inhouse foster care program that works with individuals who require out of home placement. TMI supports clients of the San Diego Regional Center, a nonprofit committed to empower persons with developmental disabilities and their families. But she said that it has not hindered the amount of support that it provides resource families.
“We took a big hit with the pandemic,” said Osuna. “We saw a significant decrease in the number of individuals that are able to sign up to become a resource parent. I think people were just so overwhelmed, our lives changed, and I think they did not think that they could add on something new. This is really an awarding thing to do. Not only will you make a significant positive impact in the life of the youth placed with you. It is also a great financial opportunity. Many parents now are staying at home or working from home. Resource parents do receive a monthly stipend to help with the cost of placement.”
Osuna said the most common diagnoses of children, youth and young adults are in the autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and that many have a dual diagnosis where there is a mental health component.
“But rest assured that we supply all of the support services to make these placements successful,” said Osuna.
Osuna said she believes when people hear the words foster care, the immediately think County, Child Protective Services and removal.
“What is unique about our program is that we also take what we call, volunteer placements,” she said. “Maybe the family of origin is struggling with behaviors that the youth or child is engaging with in their home, and they are asking the Regional Center for additional support. They ask for an out of home placement, but the family retains all their parental rights. We love to support them through that process.”
Osuna said its support system to resource parents in comprehensive, with the support of a master’s lever social worker, a behavior consultant, resource parent support group, and staff is available 24/7 to meet any needs that a resource family might have. She said many people believe automatically that they do not have the experience to care for an individual with developmental disabilities.
“There is no experience required,” she said. “We will fully train you. We feel that everybody has a great potential if they are open and willing to provide a warm, loving and stable home, and if they are willing to work collaboratively as a team. We will teach you the tools on how to make these placements successful.”
Osuna said TMI needs an individual or family, you can be married, single, or couple.
“We need families and households that are open to providing a loving and stable home. We have recently seen an increase from individuals from the LGBTQ community,” she said.
Osuna said TMI looks at resource family’s family system, its strengths, likes, and what the family’s life is like on a daily basis.
“If you are very active in the community, we want to make sure that you are matched with a youth that can keep up with that lifestyle and be a part of your family,” she said. “We will let you know everything that we know about the youth that we are matching you with in your home. Also, nothing is a surprise. Bottom line, you will decide what you want to support.”
Osuna said that the safety and wellbeing of its clients is most important, so all resource parents go through a safe cycle social assessment.
“It is the best way to get to know our families, get to know their strengths,” she said. “We interview everyone in the household to make sure everyone is on the same page. It is in depth, but it keeps everybody’s safety and wellbeing in mind. Youth can share a bedroom. They need a bed and a dresser and that love, warmth, stability and openness from the family.”
Resource families receive a monthly stipend, ant the foster youth receive personal and incidental money that they can spend on their “fun activities,” like buying a video game, getting a cellphone or buying something that they want.
Osuna said its Out of the Home Respite Program not only utilizes resource families that are not ready for a 24/7 commitment, but also serve as a respite to resource parents.
“That means individuals that need a little break from home, they ask the Regional Center for help, and they get approved for a number of out of home respite days,” she said. “They coordinate directly with our resource parents. Some families will elect to their respite days one weekend a month, a day here and there, or a week consecutive. We provide the same level of support.”
TMI’s next resource family training is June 3, 10 and 17. It is a three night training. Interested individuals will go through a brief orientation, learning the details of the program, more of the in depth requirements, financial compensation. They are required to attend all three parts of the training.
For more information about TMI’s Resource Family program, visit www.tmi-inc.org.