Monday, July 18, 2005

He builds the future -- one child at a time

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.07.18
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: D1 / Front
BYLINE: Jenni Lee Campbell
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Rod MacIvor, The Ottawa Citizen / Brad Hammondis always in the midst of children. Some are his day-care children, some are his foster children, and some are his own. But all of them, such as Owen, 21/2, front row left, Brandon, 2, Kaia, 19 months, and Ashley, 8, back row, left, and Jek, 9, receive equal amounts of love and care.
NOTE: Fostering Happiness

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He builds the future -- one child at a time: For six years now, Brad Hammond, a father and day-care provider, has been giving foster children a stable, caring place to stay, Jenni Lee Campbell writes

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At an age when many of his contemporaries are clinging to the last vestiges of bachelorhood and still consider pizza and beer to be major food groups, 28-year-old Brad Hammond is in a completely different ballpark. If you want to get technical, he's in a tee-ball field, actually. And he knows his food groups inside out.

The softspoken, funny young man is a modern-day Super Dad, a father and daycare provider who, for the last six years, has also been spreading the love to foster children in need of a stable, caring place to stay while their family issues are worked out by the Children's Aid Society.

People like Mr. Hammond play a crucial role in the community, says Jacquie Woodward, director of Child and Youth in Care Services at the CAS. The need for foster homes in Ottawa is the highest it has been in years.

"All the literature indicates that for every child that comes into care, ideally you would like to have three families to choose from," says Mrs. Woodward, in order to match a child's issues with the capacity of foster parents.

The CAS currently has between 250 and 260 foster families for their 880 children in care. Almost 300 of those children are currently in the foster care system.

Mr. Hammond and his wife, Nada Jean, who works for NAV Canada, have fostered 15 children so far, often taking in groups of siblings and children with serious behavioural issues.

"Most of the time they come to us with the clothes on their back," says Mr. Hammond of the children they've fostered.

The first thing he and Ms. Jean do is take them shopping for new clothes and school supplies, and let them choose a bedset for their room to make them feel at home.

When nine-year-old Julien arrived at the Hammond's three years ago, he had little vocabulary, no social skills, and was unable to dress himself.

Today, he's a bright, energetic and athletic boy who enjoys going to school and doing taekwondo.

Giving children like Julien a sense of pride and self-confidence is something Mr. Hammond takes very seriously. Where he used to have his school work ripped up at home, Julien's brightly-coloured artwork is displayed prominently on the fridge at the Hammonds. His progress is incredible, says Mr. Hammond.

"He's inspiring."

Equal treatment is one of the cornerstones of how Mr. Hammond and Ms. Jean treat their children, regardless of how long they've been part of the family.

At Christmas, everyone gets the same number of presents (Mr. Hammond, the main Christmas shopper, can never resist going well over the per-child allowance they get from the agency for gifts).

"A lot of kids never had birthdays or Christmases, and we're able to give them back some of their innocence and childhood," Mr. Hammond says.

Mr. Hammond, who studied sociology at Carleton University and has worked with developmentally delayed adults, has always felt at home in the role of caregiver. When he and Ms. Jean met each other, Ms. Jean's daughter, Ashley, was a toddler and she wasn't interested in beating around the bush with some guy who wasn't going to stick around.

"One of the first questions I asked him was, 'Do you want to have kids?'" Ms. Jean says.

"He told me he wanted twelve!"

Mr. Hammond may have been joking a bit, but he and Ms. Jean are getting close.

It wasn't long after that conversation that they decided they both wanted to be foster parents.

The CAS accepts applications from anyone over the age of 18 who is interested in fostering, and there are different levels of care -- people who can't commit to full time fostering are encouraged to apply to fill relief or weekend positions. Foster care workers then conduct a 9-to-12-week home study to determine the appropriateness and safety of the home.

Pre-service training is given to prospective foster parents, says Mrs. Woodward, "to help them deal with separation and loss, behavior management, and to understand their relationship with the birth parents."

Even experienced foster parents like Mr. Hammond and Ms. Jean receive ongoing in-service training around practical things like safety, CPR, and dealing with children who have been abused.

Once they were approved as foster parents, they started taking children in and haven't stopped. Then came Brandon, 2, who the Hammonds conceived through in-vitro fertilization.

When Mr. Hammond lost his job due to cutbacks six months after Brandon was born, it could have thrown the family into a crisis. Instead, it seemed like everything fell neatly into place.

One of their friends had just lost their daycare provider, and Mr. Hammond decided to take over. He now cares for toddlers Owen and Kaia, and will be taking in another child soon, bringing the total of children he looks after to eight.

"There's a stigma about men running daycares," Mr. Hammond says ruefully. He's still angry at police chief Vince Bevan, who publically said several months ago that he would never leave a child with a male babysitter.

"His reasoning was that men have a predisposition to be sexual predators," Mr. Hammond explains. "I was mortified."

Despite the bad press, Mr. Hammond has plenty of admirers. His daycare dads joke that they should take lessons from him, and women dig his fun, gentle way with children.

"I get asked if I'm married all the time!" Mr. Hammond says, and he and Ms. Jean laugh.

The Hammonds have already outgrown two houses in just a few years. Their new four-bedroom near the airport is spacious and has a great backyard, complete with toddler pools, two sandboxes and a playstructure.

An important part of caring for children who are going through uncertain periods in their lives is stability and structure. Mr. Hammond is well aware of this, and his routines reflect it.

After school, the older children play outside or in the basement playroom. Mr. Hammond calls them one at a time into the kitchen, where he looks over their agendas and gives them a hand with their homework.

After everyone's done, it's free time, but Mr. Hammond doesn't allow TV or videogames on school days, so that means dress-up, arts and crafts, puzzles, or sports.

"There's absolutely nothing like getting down on the floor and playing with your kids," Mr. Hammond says.

Every night at dinner the family does "Good Thing/Bad Thing," where each person gets to tell everyone about the high and low of their day.

Mr. Hammond says his job starts at 6 a.m., and doesn't end until he goes to sleep. Even then, there are fevers to treat and nightmares to soothe.

"They (the foster children) carry a lot of baggage with them," Mr. Hammond says. "But it's the most amazing feeling in the world going to bed, knowing that regardless of the day's challenges, they've made progress or even are just safe in your house."

And his kids might one day accuse him of being a workaholic, but it's doubtful that his devotion to his job will leave them feeling scarred or unloved. Just several months ago, at the behest of Ashley and one of his foster children, Mr. Hammond entered a radio station's 'Drag Your Dad to Duff' contest, allowing them to doll him up in all their best finery. He choked on the Hillary trivia, but they forgave him.

One of Mr. Hammond's and Ms. Jean's latest foster kids is a sweet, pretty and thoughtful girl. She comes home from school every day with a new fact for Mr. Hammond, and often surprises him with her grasp of concepts and ideas that seem well beyond her age.

"It's beyond rewarding," Mr. Hammond says, smiling at her. "The kids teach us about life and love."

To find out more about fostering, attend the Children's Aid Society's monthly information session, the last Thursday of every month, or visit www.fosteradoptwinningkids.com

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