Foster Parenting: An Opportunity to Make a Difference
Friday, October 31, 2008 8:00 PM
We live in an age when many parents consider two children to be ideal, and three children to be more than enough. But Eunice Jackson always wanted six children of her own. After having two daughters and a son, it didn't seem that Jackson would ever be the mother of six. Then, a woman at church started recruiting for foster parents, and Jackson and her husband George signed up.
MUMC Named One of Nation’s Most Adoption-Friendly Workplaces
Memorial University Medical Center has been named to the 2008 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces in America list. Memorial ranked No. 59 overall on the list of 100 companies. In the healthcare category, MUMC was No. 4. The list is compiled and released by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
"This recognition is quite an honor for us. At Memorial, we know that our success depends on our team members. Providing adoption benefits is just one of the ways that we thank our team members for the work they do. Since our adoption assistance benefit went into effect in January 2000, MUMC has assisted 22 employees with total reimbursement of more than $100,300," said David A. Thaeler, senior vice president of human resources at MUMC.
Rankings for the Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces in America list are based on the amount of financial assistance and paid leave provided for employees that adopt. The foundation compiled the results from survey data collected from 919 U.S. employers
Adoption benefits are voluntary, employer-provided and include some combination of financial assistance, paid leave and unpaid leave. The Dave Thomas Foundation has seen a significant increase in the number of employers offering adoption benefits over the years.
That was 20 years ago, and now Eunice and George are the parents of six children - three grown with children of their own, and three more under the age of 15 that they have adopted. The Jacksons actually have their six, plus three, for the moment. Three foster children under the age of 4 are also living with the Jackson family, though they will soon move on to a permanent home.
According to Eunice, saying goodbye to her foster children has always been the hardest part of foster parenting, but she's committed to investing in the children for as long as they are given to her. "You can't get into foster care thinking you're going to take somebody's children ... You're just there to help them along the way," said Eunice. "It's always possible that their parents are going to get better and they're going to go back home, or they're going to go with some relatives."
Foster parent Linda Dilworth agrees that letting go of the children who are temporarily in her care is the biggest challenge she faces. Linda and her husband Troy have two biological daughters who are grown, and three adopted daughters under the age of 11. Like the Jacksons, the Dilworths have adopted and still continue to open their home to foster children. Currently, they have two foster children, ages 4 and 5.
Linda, a former medical worker, became a foster parent by calling the Chatham County Department of Family and Child Services and offering to get involved. She and Troy started fostering children in 1990, took a break when their own children had children, and then started fostering again in 2000. "We believe that every child deserves to have love, stability and permanence in their life," said Linda. "We just love kids."
According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are an estimated 510,000 children in foster care in the United States, and more than 129,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. In Chatham County there are 358 children in the foster care system, ranging from birth to age 21. Many are put in the system because of allegations of physical or sexual abuse, or neglect in their homes. Once a child enters the system, the county has 12 months to determine a permanent plan of action - to return the child home, place the child with relatives or seek an adoptive family for the child.
Yvonnia Brown, director of the Chatham County Department of Family and Child Services, is passionate about seeing the children in her foster care system receive the best possible care, and she encourages individuals and couples to get involved. According to Brown, becoming a foster parent isn't about being single or married, it's about being the kind of person who has the commitment, financial means, love and patience to help the vulnerable children in our community adjust and thrive through the challenges they face.
"We are always seeking individuals, families to recruit ... to become foster parents," said Brown. "It really takes a special person. These kids have challenges ... But I think if you're truly committed, then the reward of becoming a foster parent is ... priceless."
Potential foster parents go through three to four months of training before taking in any children. Once a parent is officially able to care for a foster child, the child's average stay in their home is likely to be four to six months, though some stay longer. Foster parents are visited by the county four times a year to ensure that they are compliant with regulations and to help parents provide for any of the children's needs. Additionally, a child's social worker visits each month to assess the child's mental and physical well being, and to see how well the placement is working.
Currently, there are more than 70 foster homes in Chatham County, and the majority of those foster parents are a part of the Chatham County Foster Parent Association. Eunice Jackson is the president of the association, which serves as an additional support for foster parents in our community. Each year the association hosts a back-to-school picnic where parents can pick up donated school supplies for their foster children, and every summer they take a group trip to places like Disney World or King's Dominion. The group also provides for parents through a clothes closet, and has plans to expand the closet into a thrift store that will give more support to foster children in Chatham County.
Jackson is excited about the association's most recent project: a tutoring and mentoring program. Having received approval from the county, the association is planning to have foster parents and other volunteers trained to serve as tutors and mentors on a weekly basis. Jackson and others have noticed that many children in the foster care system have difficulty with reading and math, and the tutoring program is their way of tackling that challenge and helping those children make the most of their years in school in spite of the personal upheaval they have experienced.
Jackson, Linda Dilworth and Brown are all committed to helping the children in their care as much as possible. According to Dilworth, being a foster parent has not only been a great joy, but knowing that she is positively influencing children in need has brought additional meaning and purpose to her life. For Brown, the work that she does for Chatham County children is a part of who she is. "Some things you just know you were called to do," explained Brown. "I don't see this as a career or a job, I see it as a mission. ..."
For more information about foster parenting in Chatham County, call 1-877-210-KIDS or 912-651-2515.
For information about volunteering in the Chatham County Foster Parent Association tutoring program, call Eunice Jackson at 912-964-2473.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and November 15 is National Adoption Day. Learn more at www.nationaladoptionday.org .
Hohna Hartley is a Savannah-area freelance writer.