By LOCAL TOWN PAGES - Holliston resident Deborah Sweet, a foster parent ambassador for the Framingham office of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), is embarking on her fourth year of collecting backpacks and school supplies for children in foster care and in families that are receiving DCF assistance in the 23 towns represented by the Framingham office, including Holliston. A foster parent herself, Sweet and her husband, William Sweet, have five children of their own, three biological and two adopted, and when they can, they take in a baby in need of care. This past year they’ve fostered about four babies, including one baby in respite care starting this month.
“I’ve been involved for over 20 years with DCF in some capacity,” says Sweet, who has been a foster parent for 10 of those years and a foster parent ambassador for six. “I go out into the communities the Framingham office covers and talk to people about foster care and adoption,” she says.
Sweet, trained as an art teacher, says she and her husband always knew they wanted to take care of children. As a college student, she took care of children with special needs, and one agency placed her in a medical foster home. “Two of those kids were flower girls in my wedding,” she says. William, a nurse practitioner, later found that a pediatric patient living on the floor of a rehabilitation hospital he was working at needed foster care, and so the two underwent 10-week MAPP training, Massachusetts Approach to Partnership and Parenting training.
“We were halfway through our classes, and she got placed with a family member,” says Sweet, “So we decided we would pursue the license and take in another child.”
Sweet says she actually helps teach MAPP training now, which is offered through the Framingham office for four times a year.
“It’s a really well-written course. I’m really proud of that,” she says, “It’s really about parenting through the lens of trauma, understanding the child’s perspective and the biological parent’s perspective.” Sweet says that MAPP classes aren’t only available for the areas (from Holliston to Littleton) that her DCF office covers, but available all over. “There’s always somebody running a MAPP class. If you’re ready to do this now, you can jump on board,” says Sweet.
Side by side with her love of children and her passion for nurturing those who need it is Sweet’s annual backpack drive. Since she began four years ago, she’s collected 200-300 each year, and every single one is given to a child.
The drive helps parents who are receiving DCF services, she says, because “If a parent is having trouble deciding between a meal and school supplies, they’ll choose a meal. And it also goes to foster children who have been removed. The compensation (foster parents receive) is not tremendous”. Sweet says her foster care stipend just covers diapers and formula for her foster babies.
“Oftentimes a backpack is what makes a child feel like they fit in at school, like they deserve the education that they’re getting and can be a lifeline for them if they are being transitioned form home to home.” Sweet adds that the backpack “may be what (foster children) put all their stuff in instead of a garbage bag when they’re moving from home to home. If we can make a dent in that, it’s wonderful,” she says.
Sweet says she will collect any backpack, from preschool to college, as long as it’s new, and any school supplies people are willing to donate to fill them.
“We’re looking for anything people have to offer, notebooks, 3-ring binders, pencils, markers – what your supply list looks like for your own child.
In fact, in Holliston, Carol and John Paltrineri, of Fiske’s General Store, will be collecting again this year for the drive. “They also offer backpacks and they offer $10 school supply kits,” says Sweet. She notes that she was working on getting other locations Framingham’s area to accept the donations as well, but at press time they were not confirmed. To find out if a location in a different area is collecting the backpacks, you can email Sweet at email@example.com.
“What we do is we put usually some pencils, maybe some portfolios, a notebook in a backpack all in one piece, or you can buy basically just a backpack or all the goodies in a separate Ziploc bag. We have it three different ways,” says John Paltrineri, who says his wife Carol does most of the back-to-school purchasing.
“We’ve taken part in it for several years now, and we’re looking forward to partnering again,” says Paltrineri. “It’s nice to be able to help out the kids in need. We like being part of that, so we sell them at a special discount. Come on down, and we’ll take care of it for you.”