A call for open arms: Rowan county says goodbye to two foster families

Published 12:05 am Sunday, June 18, 2017

By Andie Foley
For The Salisbury Post

When Mike and Ann Mitchell became licensed to foster parent, they had no intention to foster anyone outside of a grandchild who had entered into care.

Some 25 years later, they have welcomed 90 children into their home.

Their story has many similarities to the story of Chris and Cindy Blaise, the biological parents of three girls who took up fostering to experience parenting boys. Their first placement – as luck would have it, a girl – would be the first of 43.

But there’s something else these two couples have in common besides an immense number of children to whom they have opened their hearts and homes. As of June 10, both pairs have retired from fostering.

For the Rowan County foster care system, this loss is monumental.

“They are definitely going to be missed by us,” said Wendy Baskins, Licensing Social Worker for the Rowan County Department of Social Services. “I don’t know that we can fill those shoes.”

The Blaises and Mitchells both held a unique dynamic that contributed to their high number of foster children: Cindy was a stay-at-home mom while both Mike and Ann were retired. Accordingly, they were available and willing to accept newborns and special needs children, children for whom daycare was either an impracticality or an impossibility.

“They were our experts,” Baskins said. “That’s going to be a big loss for us because they were so versed in meeting a child’s medical and spiritual and inter-social needs.”

Nadean Quarterman, Rowan County’s Supervisor for Foster Home Licensing, reports that many potential foster parents fear becoming too attached to their foster children. However, new fostering concepts such as shared parenting mean contact is not severed when a child is reunified his or her parents.

With shared parenting, foster parents and biological parents maintain open contact throughout a child’s time in care with visits, phone calls and text and picture updates, depending on the situation. This process reduces anxiety and distrust, helping both foster and biological families realize their counterparts are real people with a shared affection for the children in care.

Shared parenting also provides another valuable opportunity: the chance for biological parents to be mentored by those fostering their children.

“The ideal foster parent is not only providing safety and protection for that child but they are also a model for parenting for the birth parent,” said Micah Ennis, Program Manager for Social Work Services. “They help that transition for the child. They help the child see strengths in their own parent.”

Neither the Blaises nor the Mitchells will mince words when asked about their foster parenting experiences. The process, they say, is taxing both emotionally and physically.

“It’s not for the weak,” Ann said, and Cindy elaborated.

“It’s like a roller coaster,” she said. “You’re doing really good, you’re feeling really great and then something happens … You’ve got to be able to deal with the ups and downs if you want to foster.”

The trials of fostering can seem many. Children may enter care having experienced trauma, leading to reclusive or reactive behavior issues. Fortunately, the Rowan County Department of Social Services not only trains parents on signs of and appropriate responses to trauma, but helps connect them with resources for addressing the needs of those in their care.

“We had six (biological) kids and raised them,” Mike said, “then took the MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) training and learned a lot. That’s how helpful it is.”

Another trial? Addressing these needs and seeing marked gains only to have to say goodbye. For potential foster families hesitant of these goodbyes, Chris had the following words.

“The thing you’ve got to remember, you give one up, there’s always ten more waiting,” he said. “There’s always another that needs help. That’s how you get over the emotional part.”

More than that, both the Mitchells and Blaises agree: the pay for their work comes in seeing children smile and thrive.

“We think we help give them a good start in life,” Mike said. Quarterman agrees.

“They’re strengthening the community one family at a time. That’s the biggest impact our foster families have.”

Rowan County currently has an urgent need for foster families. Those interested are encouraged to contact Jon Hunter by calling 704-216-7914 or emailing jon.hunter@rowancountync.gov for a free informational packet.