By Judy Marie Willis
In a perfect world, parents would never abuse or neglect their children. They would provide a stable home and “forever family,” made up of people who cherished and loved them without conditions. They would know that consistency is the key to their child’s social, moral, emotional, physical and cognitive competence, and that often it takes a “village” to properly raise them to adulthood. They would care about what’s on their child’s mind and in their heart, because hope and love can only be fostered with trust. They would gladly commit to strengthening the foundation of the family, knowing that we reap the benefits or pay the cost of what our children ultimately become. In this utopia, children would never have to experience difficult life issues and the negative behaviors indicative of those traumatic experiences, or have a judge rule that they must be taken from their homes, separated from their siblings and placed in foster care. Fortunately, when that happens, the Forsyth County Department of Social Services and their team of recruiters, social workers, foster-care and adoption-service professionals are there to provide the training, support services and encouragement needed, so that the child and their foster parents know they’re not alone.
“DSS provides 30 hours of state-mandated initial training,” said Kimberly Nesbitt, Program Manager, Family and Children’s Division, “along with monthly support groups, quarterly parent’s nights out, with each foster parent assigned one of the five social workers in our unit, who are literally available 24/7.” The goal is to find people who have room in their homes and room in their hearts to consciously make a difference in a young person’s life. Co-parenting between the foster and biological parents is encouraged and inspires an understanding of what needs to happen for the child’s best interests. Eliminating the fear factor helps each of them know that whatever they accomplish collaboratively is valued.
For Emily Perkins, this extensive network represented the community of support she needed. “I was ready for children in my home, but couldn’t fathom bringing another child into the world without a father,” the single 33-year-old said. Perkins took the MAPP (Model Approaches to Partnership) classes which help DSS screen and prepare families for fostering, and was fully convinced that being a foster care-to- adopt parent was best suited for her. “I knew that God would select the right child for me and asked that I be blessed to raise him or her in Christ.”
Perkins was licensed in 2011 and on January 17th, 2013, her dream came true, when she took her daughter, then 10 months old, home. Now two, she’s the light of Perkin’s life. She describes her little girl as “brilliant, very self-aware, funny and the most beautiful person she knows. “At first she didn’t cry and hugs and kisses took a while,” she said. “But now her favorite thing is to snuggle under a blanket and read a book. Jesus gave me the grace and beauty to do this; I give Him all the glory.”
Community partners like Youth in Transition (YIT) ensure that services are properly coordinated for those under 21 and offer direct, case-management support for young people after they turn 21, with a special emphasis placed on extending foster care to age 26. “Forsyth DSS works directly with youth in foster care, and because of that it’s perceived as a DSS issue, although the needs are bigger than any one organization should or could bear,” said Alex Hudson, Executive Director, YIT. “DSS and YIT are working to improve outcomes and increase the number of foster families willing to parent teenagers, ages 14–17, and young adults, 18–21 and 21–26, who may not have a permanent home and family.
Foster parenting young adults has great rewards, said Evelyn Hardy, Adoption Services Supervisor, DSS. “Once you get to know them individually, there’s no second guessing; you see immediately who they are, and when you form that bond, it’s really wonderful.”
Stacy Kelley didn’t bank on foster-parenting a teenager. Even though she’d developed a close mother-daughter bond with a young woman whom she would later help re-unify with her biological parents, Kelley, a doctoral student at Apex School of Theology, was still reluctant to take on a teenager. But God orchestrated another plan. Kelley describes her seventeen-year-old foster-care daughter as “very smart, ambitious, beautiful inside and out with a smile that lights up the room,” though there wasn’t a whole lot of smiling initially. Although she’s been a foster parent for less than a year, a lot has changed as Kelley sees her daughter blossoming, her greatness manifesting itself from the inside out. “She’s truly my heart. This experience has allowed me to be an inspiration to someone else.”
Alex Hudson says that his “work with YIT has enabled him to better appreciate the gift of family, and how we can better care for, and learn from, others. My hope is that there will be a waiting list of trained foster parents, ready to support and love a child or children as soon as they come into care. We have made a good start, but there is more work to be done.”
Interested in becoming a foster-care parent? For more information, contact Sharon Porter, Recruiter, at (336)703-2445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.