Make a difference in kids’ lives

“DSS dropped off a 4-day-old baby girl today.”

A huge smile crept across my face, and at the same time, tears filled my eyes in a mixture of both joy and sadness when I read that in a text message. Sadness about whatever unknown situation had a 4-day-old baby needing a safe and secure home, and joy that my friends would get to be her foster parents.

Last fall, I had the pleasure to serve as a reference for this dear family who, despite having a house full of four very lively little boys, knew they had room in their home, and in their hearts, to provide for another child.

In my world of providing services and support to children and families, it is well known that there is a great need for licensed foster parents to provide homes for children in Henderson County as well as families who can provide respite care for foster parents.

Currently, the county holds custody of 158 children; however, there are only 58 foster homes in our county to serve them. When homes are not available, children are placed in homes in neighboring communities, disrupting school, community and support systems for the child.

All children need caring adults in their homes, and throughout their community, to take an interest in their well-being. According to the N.C. Pediatric Society (state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics), foster children “demonstrate disproportionately high rates of physical, reproductive, oral/dental, developmental, behavioral/emotional, cognitive, educational and social dysfunction compared to the general child population.” Abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as a juvenile, 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for violent and criminal behavior as an adult, and 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for one of many forms of violent crimes (juvenile or adult).

These children need adults to care about them and who can provide safe and stable homes during times of crisis in their lives. Between July 2014 and June 2015, 709 children were investigated for abuse and neglect. Of those children, 57 percent were ages 0-5, 29 percent were ages 6-12, and 14 percent were ages 13-17.

There are many reasons a child may need a foster family, and the individual needs of each child can vary greatly. Typically, children are removed from their home for abuse or neglect, abandonment, family stress caused by addiction or mental illness, illness or death of a parent or because of the child’s behavior due to physical and/or emotional handicap.

The primary goal of the Department of Social Services is to reunite children with their birth families if it is safe to do so. Therefore, foster homes are intended to be a temporary, safe and loving home for a child.

Foster parents must be licensed to care for children in their homes. As part of the licensing, potential foster parents will receive 30 hours of training on a variety of topics. A foster parent must:

• Be at least 21 years old.
• Have a stable home and income.
• Provide each child with his/her own bed.
• Pass state environmental, fire and safety code requirements.
• Be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check.
• Have excellent references.
• Maintain a drug-free environment.
• Complete all required training and be licensed by the state of North Carolina.

There is a strong system of support for foster families in Henderson County. The Henderson County Foster Parent Association provides support and resources for local foster parents. Additionally, another nonprofit organization, Homes for Youth, is working with the Department of Social Services to help recruit foster parents, to support training sessions and to provide emotional and material support to foster families.

Foster parenting isn’t for everyone, but there are many ways you can make a difference in the lives of children here in Henderson County. You can:

• Serve as a guardian ad litem.
• Mentor a young person through our Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program.
• Volunteer after school at the Boys & Girls Club.
• Partner with the Henderson County Foster Parent Association or Homes for Youth to provide advocacy and resources for our county’s foster families.
• Become a licensed foster parent who provides short-term respite care to foster families.
• Volunteer at Only Hope WNC home for boys.

I once heard a local foster parent say, “What an incredible opportunity we have to love children.” We certainly do, whether we care for them in our own homes or within our community. If you are interested in becoming a foster family, the next series of training classes will be from 6-8 p.m. April 6 at Mud Creek Baptist Church. To register, contact Darlene Stone at 694-6252 or by email at families4kids@hendersoncountydss.org.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center (www.childrenandfamily.org; 828-698-0674).

This post was originally found in the Times-News and on Blue Ridge Now, http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20160309/OPINION/160309853/1014?Title=Make-a-difference-in-kids-lives

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