Friday, December 22, 2006

Good foster parents are a valuable commodity

Good foster parents are a gift
You don't have to know everything to be one - just care
Davis, Merlene. Lexington Herald-Leader, May 21, 2006, pg. B1.

We stayed in touch with my son's foster mother for a couple of years after my husband and I adopted him. She was the one who knew him best and had nurtured him for the first nine months of his life.

My son was blessed to have such a woman in a very tumultuous time of his life.

So many other children have been similarly blessed, particularly those nurtured by foster parents Parker and Leslie Webb of Lexington.

The Webbs have been certified foster parents for nearly two years, and cared for another child years before that.

Two of the three children in their care arrived through the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, a 137-year-old non-profit agency, the oldest private child-care agency in Kentucky. KBHC is a contract agency with the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The other child is a product of the more informal kinship care, or when grandparents or other family members care for relatives when parents cannot.

"It is challenging, to say the least," Leslie Webb said.

Webb and her husband went through 36 hours of training before certification and must take 24 additional hours of training each year, she said. They were taught parenting skills and the do's and don'ts of caring for foster children.

KBHC conducted four background checks on them and checked the background of any adult who might watch the children. Any children 12 and older residing in foster homes must also undergo a child abuse and neglect check.

Sometimes the children "test the limits," Webb said. "I had my days where I felt like, 'What am I doing? Why did I do this?'

"The thing that kept me sticking with these children," she said, "was that I am a Christian, and the thought came to me, 'What if God had given up on me?'

"These children are used to being moved from place to place, no stability, and I just didn't want to be another statistic in their lives," Webb said. That is a good foster parent.

May has been designated National Foster Care Month in celebration of people like her.

Susan Holbrook, the recruiter and trainer for KBHC foster parents in this area, said children throughout the nation need families like the Webbs.

She said no one expects the foster families to come ready-made to deal with some of the issues foster children may have.

"They are taught everything about sexual, physical and drug abuse, domestic violence, neglect and, now, Internet porn," Holbrook said.

With KBHC, each foster family is assigned a foster-care specialist whose job it is to provide aid or advice at any time. Each specialist has a caseload of 12 children.

"The foster-care specialist is here at least twice a month," Webb said, "and I talk to her on a weekly basis."

The state maintains legal guardianship of the children in KBHC, Holbrook said. "We take care of the kids when they don't have foster homes available."

Mary Ellen Nold, foster care manager for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said there are generally about 6,800 children in foster care at any given time and the number is on the increase.

The children are taken out of their homes because of abuse or neglect, from any number of causes.

"Generally we try to move the children back home quickly," she said. The average stay is nearly 17 months.

The state contracts with 56 agencies to provide residential and foster care in addition to the 2,175 families working directly for the state. KBHC is only one of them.

Although foster families are reimbursed for their expenses, they won't get rich. The KBHC checks a family's income to make sure they don't want to rely on the reimbursement to maintain their livelihood.

Whether a family calls KBHC or the state depends on which agency better suits their needs, Nold said. Both have safeguards in place and both need families.

"We are always in need," Nold said. "The foster family population is a fluid population. People leave for a variety of reasons; the most common is because they become adoptive parents and don't feel like they can continue to foster."

If that is the case, KBHC may be losing the Webbs.

Leslie Webb said she and her husband hope to adopt all three of the children in their care.

"I couldn't give them up," Webb said. "When they went on respite, we were all bawling like they were never coming back."

Applicants should be at least 24 years old, married or single, from all walks of life and who are committed and yet flexible.

African-American and Hispanic families are greatly needed, and empty-nesters are welcomed.

"If people don't want to do this full-time, we need respite parents, too," Holbrook said. "That's people doing it for a weekend or a week."

To start the process, call KBHC at 1-800-493-2303, or the Cabinet for Health and Family Services at 1-800-232-5437.

So many children need you.


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