Sunday, June 03, 2007

Wow - they've fostered between 150 - 160 teenagers

Temporary parents 'foster' good feelings
Robinson, Rianna. Georgetown News, June 3, 2007.

Nora and Mike McCain are foster parents in Scott County. They say they have fostered between 150 and 160 teenagers.

Today in Scott County, there are 80 to 85 children in the foster care system, and the adults and families who provide a temporary home for them say they defy conventional ideas about foster children.

Ruby Harris has been a foster parent for 32 years, and has given a temporary home to more than 100 children from newborn to 12. Currently, Harris is foster mother to three children, and said that every child has had the same basic needs.

"They're all kids," Harris said. "They all need the same thing. They need someone to love them and take care of them."

Harris treats foster children in her home the same as she would treat her own children, and said foster kids create no more challenges than her own children.

"They're a part of the family," Harris said. "Most little kids won't have emotional issues."

The most important thing for a foster parent is to have love in their heart for children, she said. Foster parents are well trained and willing to go the distance for the children, Harris said.

"I would honestly say that Scott County has some of the best foster parents," she said, "They will go to bat for the kids, and they do the same for their foster kids as they would their own kids.

"I've been a foster parent long enough that I have kids that are grown and still come see me. If you don't get attached to the kids, you're in the wrong business."

Even so, that same attachment makes it tough to let go when the time comes. The foster care program is meant to be temporary.

"The goal is that all of the children will go home to their parents eventually," Harris said.

Scott County has a great need for foster families that accept teenagers, such as the McCain family, Harris said.

Nora and Mike McCain have been foster parents since 1984, and have fostered between 150 to 160 teenagers.

Parents who are more concerned with their own needs than those of the children often cause the anger she sees in the younger generation, said Nora McCain.

"I see a lot of kids out here and I think we're raising a generation of kids who're angry," McCain said. "They're angry because their parents don't have time for them. Mike and I need to remember that we can't save the world, but we wish we had a 10-bedroom house so we could take in 10 kids."

The McCains began their work with teenagers at a home for delinquent boys. Mike said it took about two years for them to begin to understand the problems the teens faced. Many foster kids are unfairly judged because of negative stereotypes attached to being a foster child, he said.

"There are a lot of good teens out there that aren't given a chance," Mike said.

Most of the problems the Mc-Cains have encountered with foster children stem from low self-esteem. Foster kids often feel their birth parents don't love them, which makes them feel worthless, Mike said. Many children who end up in foster care have pretty much been left to fend for themselves until that point, he said, adding that the teens' low self-esteem makes it harder for them to set good boundaries for themselves.

"Every kid brings their own set of problems into the house," Mike said.

Right now, the McCains are foster parents to four teenage girls, and said that sometimes there are conflicts in the house. When that happens the whole family sits down for a meeting to discuss problems before they erupt into bad behaviors, he said. Everyone in the house is expected to pitch in and help out with chores like cooking and cleaning, and most of the time everyone cooperates. Occasion-ally, a teenager might act out, but the McCains have learned to see past a child's behavior to understand the root of why they acted out to begin with, Mike said.

"I think the kids really realize that we do care for them," he said.

The foster care system often puts children in institutions designed for juvenile criminals, Mike said.

The social services system in Kentucky doesn't do enough to train foster parents about how to deal with the unique problems teenagers face, he said.

The state should raise the per diem amounts foster parents receive to encourage more people to become foster parents, and more money should be spent on training for potential foster parents, he said.

Many foster kids develop resentment towards their foster parents because the kids feel like their birth parents are being replaced.

"We can be a family for them, but we can't replace their birth family," Mike said.

Children fostered by the McCains attend church with the family, because Mike believes the large church youth group helps teens hone their socialization skills. The McCains work with a child's birth parents so they can visit their children whenever it's possible.

One of the McCains' foster children is 17-year-old "Jane," who has been with the family for seven months.

"I don't feel like I'm in foster care," she said. "I have a lot of support."

Before "Jane" came to stay with the McCains, she lived with her parents. Her mother was abusive and withheld food, showers and other basic needs from her, calling them privileges, the teen said. She called the police five different times to tell them what was going on in her home, and said it was only after she threatened suicide that police removed her from the home and put her in a group home in Bourbon County.

"If I hadn't (threatened suicide) they would have put me in the detention center," she said.

"Lily," 16, has been staying with the McCains for about six months. She is in foster care after a family member sexually abused her. The teenager's mother did not believe her, so she fled to a neighbor's house for help. She eventually moved in with the McCains. Though her situation with her mother is still rocky, "Lily" still sees her mother and is going to family counseling with her and the family member who abused her. "Lily" said she's grateful to the McCains for all they've done for her.

"They're wonderful people, and they've helped me a lot," she said.