By Meagan Stilp
LAKE LINDEN - Over her 10-year career as a foster parent, Lynette Cruickshank of Lake Linden has housed about 58 foster children from around the Upper Peninsula. When asked what keeps her working with foster kids her answer was simple - "I love kids."
Cruickshank first became involved in foster care after helping a friend's parents with their own foster children. At the time, she had three young children of her own but was interested in helping foster children as well.
"When I wanted to get started, she said 'Try it! You'll like it.'" said said. "When my kids got older - my oldest was ten or maybe eleven when we got started - we did. My kids have pretty much been raised with it now."
In the past 10 years, Cruickshank has learned a lot about being a foster parent. She continues to attend training and works closely with agencies, schools and even the police to ensure that the children in her care are happy and safe.
"They don't come with instructions - you might get that for dogs - and you need to rely on other foster parents for help and to ask questions, because it means a lot," said Cruickshank. "If they haven't gone through it, you'll find somebody who has to help you out with itIt's good to go to those (training sessions) because you might run into somebody who has had the same problem or laugh about something that has happened. They understand more."
In addition to reaching out to the foster community, Cruickshank has found that her extended family plays a large role in her foster children's lives.
"Your own family has to get involved, not just your own house but your whole extended family - my sisters, brothers-in-law, everyone gets involved," she said. "You don't realize that when you get started, you think it's just your own but no, your whole family gets involved."
Cruickshank also reaches out to the community for help when children come to home. Sometimes they come without simple essentials like clothes and diapers but by letting the community know what the children need they are taken care of through donations.
"It really takes the whole town to raise kids," she said.
Cruickshank works to ensure that the children are comfortable when they come into the new, and sometimes scary, situation.
"You have to make it fun for them, do fun things and treat them as if they're your own," she said. 'I tell them, even if they're here for one night 'It's your home.'"
For some of her foster children, Cruikshank's house is actually home. She spoke fondly of two foster children who stayed with her for eight years before aging out of the system and going on to graduate from college. She makes an effort to stay in contact with her former foster children after they go home. She even adopted her youngest daughter, Gina, after she came into the foster program when she was only 18 months old, and has guardianship of another boy, Josh.
Cruickshank encourages families considering becoming foster parents to try it.
"If you've got room in your house, try! It's not for everyone but just try. Don't just give it one case, give it multiple cases," she said. "These kids need help, you know."
To get started, she suggests connecting with Linda Sanchez at U.P. Kids. For more information, visit their website at www.upkids.com/foster-care.
"It can be interesting at times," Cruickshank said. "For the most part it's been a pretty great experience."