Why do foster parents foster?

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2014

Why would a person open their home to a child who did not belong to them? Why would a couple open their hearts not only to a child but to their struggling families? The answers to these questions tell a great deal about the families who are licensed foster parents through Rowan County Department of Social Services.
Heather Weber has been a foster mother for five years and has had nine children in her home from infant to age 10. When asked why she felt led to become a foster parent, here was her response: “My heart had been telling me there was something more I should be doing. I am an elementary school teacher by profession, but I felt the need to do more for children and families.
“I have been blessed to help some children reunify with their parents, and I have also been a part of children being adopted. I look at myself when people ask, ‘How do you do it?’ and I say, ‘I love them and care for them while they are placed in my home, and I pray for their parents to gain the help and skills needed to have their children back.’ In the meantime I get to be a parent to amazing children and help them grow.”
Travis and Jennifer Nunn have fostered 19 children over the past seven years, ranging in age from infant to young adults. When asked about the rewards of being a foster family, the Nunns said that for them, fostering is a way of giving back. Travis said, “If I can make a difference in a child’s life, then my life has not been in vain. Kids need mentors and role models, and to know that I am helping a child makes it all worthwhile.”
Jennifer remembered difficult times in her own childhood and the people who stepped in to help. “I feel blessed to be able to give back. Everybody deserves a chance, and it’s so rewarding to see families reunite and get the help they need.” She loves it when kids and families stay in touch after reunification, and laughed that her Mother’s Day was extra special, with cards and good wishes from former foster children and their families.
Recent years have seen the advent of “shared parenting,” when foster parents and birth parents form a relationship based on the children they “share.” Foster parents work as part of a team, along with birth parents, social workers and the child’s Guardian ad Litem to help put a broken family back together again. According to another foster parent, “It’s not our job to judge the parents — only the judge on the case can do that. The foster parents’ role is to care for the children until the court can sort out what needs to happen. That’s where the social workers come in.” Cases of neglect far outnumber those of abuse.
Three out of four children in DSS custody return home to their families, either to their birth parents or to extended family. Those who cannot may become freed for adoption, and often the foster parents are the ones to adopt the child. If birth parents realize that they cannot do what they need to for their children to return to them, and if they have a good relationship with the foster parents, birth parents will sometimes relinquish their parental rights so that the foster parents can adopt the children. This did not happen years ago when foster parents and birth parents weren’t allowed to meet.
It’s a common misconception that family foster parents get paid for keeping foster children. They do not. They do receive “room and board” for the child, which often does not completely cover the cost of their care. As one foster parent observed, “The money helps, but that’s not why we do it.” A common denominator for these families appears to be love for children, and empathy for those less fortunate. “Sometimes these parents are just poor souls who never learned any better. Some could use foster parents themselves.”
In recognition of May as Foster Parent Appreciation month, Rowan County DSS staff wants to extend our heartfelt thanks to all of our licensed foster families who make a difference in the lives of children and families every day.
In Rowan County, there are 118 children and teenagers in foster care. Children range in age from newborn through 18.
Several of our teenagers and children in foster care live outside Rowan County because there are not enough foster parents in the county. In order to keep birth families close together while working with them to solve their problems and bring the family back together, we need more Rowan County foster parents, especially for teenagers.
Foster families:
• Give children and teenagers a family to come home to
• Encourage positive relationships
• Share their love with a child
• Meet the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of our children
• Arrange for medical and dental care
• Provide transportation to children’s various appointments
• Discipline in a positive way
• Work as part of the child’s team
• Prepare the child to return home
Anyone can become a foster parent if they are 21 or older. They can be single or married. They can work outside of the home, and be of any race or ethnic origin.
The commitment of foster parents leaves an indelible mark on generations to come. They are helping to end cycles of neglect and/or abuse. Children leave foster homes knowing there are many other paths in life than what they previously knew.
Help Rowan County DSS to keep our children in their home county. Search your heart and consider providing a temporary home to a Rowan County teenager or child. To help Rowan County Children in foster care contact Jon Hunter, placement support coordinator for Rowan County Department of Social Services at 704-216-7914 or by email jon.hunter@rowancountync.gov. Visit www.rowancountync.gov/fosterparent.
All are invited to attend our next prospective foster parent informational meeting on June 24 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Children’s Services Conference Room at Rowan County Department of Social Services, located at 1813 E. Innes St, Salisbury.
Mallinson is a social worker with the Rowan County Department of Social Services.