Although the primary goal of foster care is for the children to be reunited with their parents, in some cases this is not possible.

Although the primary goal of foster care is for the children to be reunited with their parents, in some cases this is not possible. (Pixabay)

Military families make up a third of the approximately 80 foster families on Guam that take in children removed from their homes on account of neglect.

Despite that contribution, foster care is still critically short of parents willing to accept at-risk children, according to the supervisor of the island’s Division of Children’s Wellness.

Unfortunately, the short tours typical of most military families also mean their foster experience is abbreviated, Pamela Brewster told Stars and Stripes by email Saturday.

“Military families offer our foster children unique experiences and opportunities,” she said. “The short tour of duty for some military families does have an impact on foster care in that some of our best foster families leave the island.”

The commander of Andersen Air Force base recently recognized his community’s reputation for providing homes to children in need.

“As many of you know, a lot of our Air Force families serve as foster families here on Guam,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Palenske wrote on his Facebook page May 13, part of his promotion of a walk and fun run to raise money for foster families.

May is National Foster Care Month and Palenske’s shout-out highlights a drastic need for foster parents on Guam, Bethany Taylor, executive director of Harvest House, told Stars and Stripes by phone on Thursday.

Harvest House is a Baptist ministry for foster children and families on Guam that acts as an emergency triage center for children in crisis entering the foster care system.

“There’s 675 foster children on Guam and there’s only 80 licensed foster families, roughly,” Taylor said. Twenty-five of those families are with the military.

Guam’s severe shortage of foster homes creates a never-ending recruiting challenge to meet that need, Brewster said.

The No. 1 reason that Guam’s Child Protective Services removes children from their families is neglect due to the parents’ drug abuse, Brewster said at a legislative committee on health on March 25, according to Pacific Daily News.

Makayla and Senior Airman Joseph Carmichael were foster parents for two years to 10 children, three of whom they adopted while stationed on Guam. They became foster parents through Harvest House.

“The first time we had encountered this need for foster parents wasn’t something that we really ever thought about doing until we went to Guam,” Makayla Carmichael said by phone Thursday.

The Carmichaels’ time as foster parents ended when Makayla and their children evacuated Guam for the United States following Typhoon Mawar last year, she said.

“We had a lot of damage, and our daughter needed another surgery, so we moved back to Kentucky temporarily,” she said.

Although the Guam foster care system loses out when a military foster family makes a permanent change of station, there is an upside, Brewster said by email.

“Many military families have been given the opportunity to become legal guardians, and in some cases, adoptive parents for the children in their care when they PCS out of Guam,” she said. “This offers our children an even greater opportunity stateside, especially if the child has special needs and requires services that are not readily available on Guam.”

Although the primary goal of foster care is for the children to be reunited with their parents, in some cases this is not possible, or the reunification time is delayed for various reasons, Brewster said.

Carmichael said the community support at Anderson was a great help while being a foster parent, from navigating housing issues to answering questions about enrolling foster children into Defense Department schools and child care centers.

Taylor said becoming a foster parent on Guam is much easier and quicker than in the States.

“If you ever wanted to foster, this is the best place, the best opportunity that you can get involved right away and make such a huge impact on the foster child’s life,” she said.

author picture
Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now