LACOC volunteers held a Foster Night Out, to give foster families an evening to themselves.
FOSTER FAMILIES NEEDED
Lauren Cornell... The Paris News
When children decide to step forward and report abuse, they need trustworthy adults to provide support, care and even housing while their case is processed. When a qualified relative isn’t available, though, Child Protective Services looks for a foster family, and finding one in Lamar County can be difficult.
“We have a desperate need for foster families,” said Kim Story, Foster and Adoptive Home Developer of the local Department of Family and Protective Services office.
According to statistics provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, of the 516 completed investigations, Lamar County saw 126 confirmed investigations and 199 confirmed victims in 2016. Sixty-nine children were removed from their home last year, and 86 children were in foster care. Countywide, however, there were only 16 foster homes. Additionally, 25 Lamar County children were awaiting adoption.
Sharon Eubanks, executive director of CASA for Kids, which coordinates advocates to visit children in their foster homes, explained many children feel punished for reporting abuse, because they are sometimes removed from everything they know due to a lack of nearby foster families.
“While the abuser gets to stay home during the process, the child has to move away,” Eubanks said. “It can be as traumatic as if someone they loved died. Sometimes they are picked up from school and are moved without anything except the clothes on their back, and because there is no suitable place for them here, they are sent to other cities — sometimes as far as Houston.”
Eubanks explained when children are relocated to other cities, they lose what support they had.
“They are taken out of their school, their Sunday school, separated from their friends,” she said. “The child trusts an adult, like a teacher, enough to tell them what’s happening, and they lose that person and everyone else in their life. If they get to stay here — if there is a foster family available to take them — it doesn’t feel like such a punishment. They get to stay in their own environment, keep going to their school and church, keep seeing their friends.”
The older the abused child is, however, the harder it is to place him or her in a nearby foster home, Story said. And, when there are siblings who need to be placed, they are often separated from one another.
“A lot of families will only take in children who are 0-3 years old, because they hope to eventually adopt. Everyone wants babies,” Story explained. “Finding families for children over 6 years old is really hard, and there are no families in Lamar County that will take in teenagers.”
For that reason, according to Rebecca Peevy, executive director of Children’s Advocacy Center, reporting abuse can be especially difficult for teens.
“Younger children don’t know what to expect when they report abuse, but older children, especially teenagers, have an idea about what’s going to happen,” Peevy said. “They know what’s a stake, and it makes the decision even harder. Sometimes their abusers have used it as a threat — ‘If you tell, your parents won’t believe you. You’ll be put in a foster home. You’ll have to change schools and leave your friends.’ And then, when these kids get up the courage to report the abuse, everything they were threatened with comes true.”
That threat would be quelled with the addition of more foster families in Lamar County, especially ones willing to accept older children, Peevy said.
“These kids are innocent; they didn’t ask for what’s happened to them,” she said. “Usually, they are great children, but sometimes they do have some problems from the abuse they’ve been through. If they stay in Lamar County, we can provide them with free therapy to help them deal with what they’re going through. It’s harder to do that if they are sent elsewhere.”
Fostering can be intimidating to people, the three women agreed.
“It’s hard, because you aren’t their parents,” Peevy said. “But it’s a powerful way to make a difference in the life of a child.”
“No one understands what it’s like unless they’ve been a foster parent,” said Story, who explained Child Protective Services and CASA for Kids are teaming up to create an association for support. “We want them to be able to come together and talk with others who are going through the same things.”
Additionally, CPS works with area churches to help meet needs and provide support. Currently, they are building a care portal to respond to needs.
“There’s a big faith-based initiative,” Story said. “We have a care portal online that can be activated when we have 10-15 churches signed up. For example, if we have a desperate need for beds or clothes, we can go to the portal and tell what we need, and the churches can help.”
To date, only two area churches have signed up for the portal, which cannot be activated until more churches have joined, Story said. For more information, visit careportal.org.
Story also visits with church groups and organizations who are interested in helping. During one such visit at Lamar Avenue Church of Christ, a new way to help support the foster parents developed in the form of a “Foster Night Out.”
“I started talking with Kim about a year ago,” said church member Stephen Gerrald. “Several people in our church had adopted children. We felt like we needed to help those who are willing to help the kids.”
One of the ways the church group decided to help was to develop a night in partnership with CPS and CASA for Kids in which volunteers could watch the children, so the foster parents could have a night to themselves.
“It was great,” Gerrald said of a recent Foster Night Out. “We had about 18 kids, from babies to children about 12 or 14 years old, and we had 13 volunteers who had a lot of fun. The parents said they really appreciated it. Some used the evening to have a date night; others used it to clean the house.”
Two such evenings have been held so far, and Gerrald said they hope to have a Foster Night Out quarterly.
The church also has teamed up with CAC and CPS to take care of the CAC’s emergency care room where children sometimes have to stay overnight while housing is found for them, and the group has volunteers for respite care when a foster family has to leave town for a funeral or some other reason.
For others who want to help children but are not prepared to become foster parents, there are other options to make a difference, including becoming an advocate with CASA for Kids. Advocates submit to background checks and 40 hours of training, 10 of which are in the courtroom. Once trained, they sign on for a year.
Additionally, the CAC accepts donations to stock its Rainbow Room, which provides necessities for children removed from homes, such as blankets, clothes, diapers or baby formula.
For those interested in learning more about fostering, though, Peevy stressed the importance of getting more information and talking to others who have fostered.
“There’s a lot to think about,” she said.
Story said there is no specific type of person who makes a good foster parent.
“You can be married, single, widowed or divorced,” she explained. “You don’t have to meet a certain financial requirement — just have enough to meet your financial obligations plus a little extra. You do need to be in good mental and physical health, be of good moral character and have a desire to help a child in need.”
Though CPS needs as many foster families as it can get, Story said quality is more important than quantity.
“We do have a need for foster families, but I understand that not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent,” she said. “God gives us each gifts, and they all differ. We need loving, caring and supportive families who understand that children who have been abused and neglected need more than children who have had little to no trauma history.”Story said anyone interested in becoming a foster parent and learning how the process works should attend an upcoming information meeting. The next meeting is April 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the CPS office, 1460 19th St. N.W. in Paris. Additional information is available at adoptchildren.org, where fostering requirements are listed as are children who are waiting to be adopted.