Some stayed for only a little while, and at least one stayed for years at the home of Wilma and Gord Tosh, who live on Henry Street here.
They have been foster parents to about 60 children over the past 25 years, and on Oct. 23, they were saluted by Guelph Wellington Family and Children’s Services for their years of work with foster kids.
The Toshes raised two daughters of their own, and have three grandchildren, but they will always feel extra special about Ben. He had some learning disabilities, and arrived when he was 7 years old. He grew up with the family and stayed until he was 22. He now lives in a special home for adults, but he is still in contact.
“Ben came – and he became ours,” Wilma Tosh said.
She said that some families have taken as many as 100 foster children, but they have kept many of their children for longer terms. Some stay for a full two semesters of school, depending on their circumstances.
Wilma said that means addressing their personal crises, which can be anything from simple neglect to being abused, to problems for parents who become ill and simply cannot look after their children. Some experience problems because of parental abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Gord Tosh said often violence starts after the family gets a new step-parent in the home.
Wilma said people like to think that such things happen only in lower economic class homes, but said that is not true, and children from homes with incomes of $100,000 and more have experienced problems.
Gord Tosh noted that problems can arise because families are scattered. In another time, families lived close together, and if someone was sick, a relative could help. Today, that is no longer the case. If a single parent gets ill, there is nobody to look after the kids.
“A lot of families don’t have that network,” Gord Tosh said.
Some of their own foster children have stayed with them up to two years.
Gord Tosh said that families are allowed to foster up to four children at one time, but they generally have no more than three because they very often take in “higher needs” children. “They’re more demanding,” he said.
They have a 15 year old girl living with them currently. “She makes me laugh,” said Wilma Tosh.
She said they were limited in the number of children they could have, and then her brother showed her scripture about looking after widows and orphans, and she and Gord decided to become foster parents.
“I’ve always kind of felt that people should volunteer in their communities,” she said.
Gord Tosh, who happens to be the social services chairman at Wellington County council, noted that some children move on they never hear from them again, and others keep in contact. They recently spent an evening with one of their former foster children – at Varney Speedway.
He said his political job was not directly part of his work with foster children, but having been on the board of Children’s Aid, he knew many people when he got involved with that committee.
He said the most difficult part of helping children is Children’s Aid (Family and Children’s Services in Wellington County) handles kids up to age 16, but between there and 18, it is difficult to place them into the Ontario Works program.
When the children move in with the Tosh family, they live just as the family does, attending family outings, and taking part in village life.
“You try to engage them in what is going on in the community,” Wilma Tosh said.
But, even then, some kids will miss out on some things. Sports groups, for example, have signing deadlines, and a child moving to the community after that is out of luck. The family had one foster child who joined the Air Cadets.
Others, though, can cause trouble. Wilma Tosh recalls that one boy stole an automobile, and she spent the day at the police station. Later that night when she and Gord were out, the boy took their car. Fortunately or unfortunately for him, it was a standard and proved too difficult to drive. While trying to get off Henry Street, it rolled back and he hit another car.
“We’ve had young people have haven’t matched,” Wilma Tosh candidly admitted. “There has been a couple that you know you just can’t manage.”
Gord Tosh said they have set a “line” and when the line is crossed, they send the foster child for more professional help at places such as Lutherwood.
But the Tosh family tends to remember the good times more than the unpleasant ones.
“I’ve gone to birthday parties for my foster grandchildren,” she said with a smile.
In another case, a young girl had thought that she was stupid because she kept failing at schools. She had missed all kids of school living with her family.
But, after living at the Tosh home for a few months she came home after passing her exams, declaring, “When you go to school every day – you’re not stupid.”
Wilma Tosh added, “When I see them succeed at school, that’s very rewarding.”
She added that seeing foster children become parents is also rewarding.
“And, they’re good parents,” she added.
Gord Tosh noted that they have broken a vicious circle. “Some are third and fourth generation” wards of Family and Children’s Services.”
And then there is Ben. He lives in assisted housing, and “People tell us he’s a great guy.”
Ben not only has a regular job, he is also a Special Olympian. He is preparing for the World Championships in Boise, Idaho, next year.
“He’s got a great quality of life,” said Gord Tosh. “He could have ended up in an institution.”