First, there were Tupperware parties selling plastic containers to keep food fresh. Now, there are fosterware parties to recruit fresh foster parents.
The first one in Winnipeg will be held this week at the home of a foster parent who has invited guests who might be up to the challenge, said Laura Morton, resource specialist with Winnipeg Child and Family Services.
There is a dire need for more foster parents, she said.
"It is very serious," said Morton. Child welfare agencies in Manitoba are having a hard time finding homes for kids -- including babies -- and more than 300 children have to stay in emergency foster placements and shift-staffed homes.
Winnipeg Child and Family Services included the brochure in a recent mailout to its 278 licensed foster homes, inviting parents to host a fosterware party.
"A fosterware party is an event hosted by an existing foster parent in their home, for family and friends whom they feel might be interested in exploring the idea of fostering," the brochure reads. "A Winnipeg Child and Family Services branch social worker will come out and join the party and will bring brochures, games, prizes and refreshments! The theme of the event is fostering, and your guests will have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about fostering in a fun, relaxed atmosphere."
One foster mom is appalled. She worries the incentives and prizes might persuade an unsuitable party guest to foster a child.
"It's kind of like peddling children," said the south Winnipeg woman, who spoke on the condition her name not be published because it might identify her foster kids, who cannot be publicly identified.
"Signing up for this is not a fad just like buying Tupperware... It's not something you can just pick up and do," she said. "I don't think there was a lot of thought put into it. It didn't sit well with me."
Morton said CFS didn't anticipate negative feedback.
"It was meant as a promotional and awareness-raising exercise," she said. They've been used successfully by agencies in the U.S. to recruit foster parents, she said.
A smaller group selected by a foster parent and invited to their home may be a better environment for people to learn about foster parenting than the big events CFS regularly hosts with dozens of strangers.
"It's true -- you really, really have to know the community you're working with and to identify people willing to do it and who have the capacity to do it," said Leslie Spillett, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk. The non-profit agency provides programs and services to help people in the aboriginal community help themselves. An estimated 80 per cent of Manitoba's 10,000 kids in care are aboriginal.
"Unfortunately, the need is there and so I think it's everybody's responsibility to identify those caring, compassionate and capable people who can open their doors and are motivated by that level of compassion and caring. It's not for everyone."
The executive director of the Manitoba Foster Family Network didn't endorse fosterware parties but understands the motivation behind them.
"It was an attempt to increase their database of caregivers," said Candace Seymour.
The Manitoba Foster Family Network board was made aware of fosterware parties, Seymour said.
"Nobody had any comments or interest in participating," she said.
"Everybody's got their own opinion."