More children than ever need to be fostered in Iceland, even as the number of available foster parents has steadily decreased, RÚV reports. Over 420 children were in foster care in Iceland at the end of last year and the National Agency for Children and Families estimates that every year, there are 120-170 children who need to go into some form of foster care.
Per the Agency’s website, there are three kinds of foster care in Iceland. Children in temporary foster care are generally placed with a foster family for up to a year, but this can be extended to two years, if needed. The goal in this situation is to return the children to their biological parents. Children in long-term foster care are intended to stay with their foster families until they turn 18, with no goal of them returning to their biological parents. Supported foster care is for children who need special or exceptional care for a max of two years. Children in supported foster situations may have behavioural and emotional issues, and/or be coming from unsafe living situations. Supported foster care is considered a “full-time job” for one of the child’s foster parents.
There is currently a particular need for foster parents who can take children into temporary and supported foster care. Applications for supported foster care have more than doubled in the last ten years.
‘We always need more’
Agency director Ólöf Ásta Farestveit says there’s a shortage of foster parents all over the country, but especially in the capital area. She said it would be difficult to name an exact number of foster parents that are currently needed but stressed “we always need more.”
“The fact of the matter is that not all children are suited to all foster parents, and foster parents are all different. We’re looking for families of all stripes who have a certain stability, both financially and socially, but primarily parents of all kinds who can provide the children with the care they need.”
‘They’re always teaching us something—much more than we teach them’
Sonja Björg Írisar Jóhannsdóttir and Kolbrún Helga Margrétar Pálsdóttir have been foster parents for about a year and a half and also participate in a ‘support family’ program. Children in this program spend time with their support families, who help create a social and support network for the children, while also giving their parents needed space and time to themselves.
Both women find their multifaceted roles as parents enlightening and inspiring.
“We have up to four children, depending—one foster child, two support children, and one child by blood, if you want to put it that way,” said Sonja Björg. “We’re getting to know ourselves again. We’re always seeing something new and fresh. Learning something new about ourselves.”
Kolbrún agreed. “Yes, and these kids are the best in the world. They’re always teaching us something—much more than we teach them.”
In order to become a foster parent in Iceland, you must attend a competency assessment, as well as a five-day course. “You have to take a hard look at yourself,” said Sonja Björg. “Your family life, childhood, and everything. But it’s really informative and a lot of fun, too.”