Foster care agencies voice need for Bartow parents
by Marie Nesmith
May 31, 2013 | 3336 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shawn and Aimee Abernathy attend a workshop to prepare them to become foster parents. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Shawn and Aimee Abernathy attend a workshop to prepare them to become foster parents. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Seeking to expand her family through adoption, Aimee Abernathy and her husband, Shawn, recently attended FaithBridge Foster Care’s training sessions. A Christian foster care ministry, FaithBridge’s 20-hour offering spanned three days at The Church at Liberty Square.

“My husband and I are truly considering the foster-to-adopt option to adopt a child because I personally can’t have children of my own,” said Abernathy, a resident of Cartersville. “We have a set of twins that are his from a previous marriage but I found out — now it’s been two years ago — that I can’t have children. So we were considering that as an option for our family.

“I truly think those workshops should be a requirement for every parent, [not just] for foster parents. They were extremely informative, especially on handling personality styles and that sort of thing with children, and it’s not just, in my opinion, children of a challenged background. All children have a different personality. So it gave options on learning how to work with a personality [issue] for each child. Even your own children can be born with personality issues that you don’t necessarily know how to cope with. So I thought it was extremely informative. I love the fact that it’s a Christian-based organization. [I] love that. But I also loved the fact that their training was in one full weekend whereas DFCS offers it [over] several weeks ... [and] that did not work well with my schedule. ... At this point, we’re still not sure which route we’re going — if we’re going with FaithBridge or if we’re going with DFCS.”

Along with introducing attendees to FaithBridge, the training discussed various aspects of foster parenting.

According to www.faithbridgefostercare.org, “... FaithBridge Foundations training is an intensive, multi-day event designed to prepare a couple for the physical, emotional and spiritual demands of foster care. Using mini workshops, prayer, conversation and tabletop discussions, FaithBridge Foundations’ training touches on a variety of important topics while helping families examine their hearts in order to determine if they are called to foster.”

Reaching out to the church community, FaithBridge has numerous meetings in June scheduled at churches across Georgia, some of which include First Baptist Church Woodstock, The Church at Chapelhill, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church and Burnt Hickory Baptist.

“A Christ-centered, tax-exempt organization intent on changing the way America does foster care, FaithBridge Foster Care works with the local church to solve its community’s foster care crisis,” states FaithBridge’s website. “FaithBridge partners with local churches to create independent, church-led foster care ministries around a small group model, called the Community of Care, which provides Christian foster families with unparalleled support and resources. This relationship-enhanced model scales to create local foster family capacity with built-in stability and quality, bringing children and families together in a safe, loving community.”

As National Foster Care Month wraps up, those working in the foster care community continue to voice the ongoing need that exists for foster parents.

“We do have a very significant need here in Bartow County,” said Lynn Green, director of Bartow County Division of Family and Children Services. “We have about 180 kids in foster care here in Bartow. We have 36 foster homes, and in the 36 foster homes, we have a total of 77 beds, spots for kids. So we have over 100 kids that there’s not a place for in a home in Bartow County. So those kids are being placed everywhere from Rome, Canton to Atlanta to Jonesboro, even Macon and Valdosta and Savannah.

“Anytime we take a child into foster care, it is so traumatic to them. They’ve been through a traumatic experience at their home and now we’re putting them through another traumatic experience by taking them out of everything that they’re comfortable with. Our goal is really to have enough homes in Bartow to keep our kids here so that at least they can keep their friends and their teachers, something that’s familiar to them. So we actually have a regional unit that’s trying to do some more recruitment, but there still is a great need for over 100 kids that could be moved back to Bartow.”

Those interested in DFCS’ three options — fostering, fostering to adopt and adoption — are encouraged to attend a monthly orientation meeting. The next gathering is scheduled for June 17 at 6 p.m. at the Bartow County DFCS office, 47 Brooks Drive in Cartersville. Following orientation, individuals will complete 21 hours of training, which usually spans seven weeks. For more information or to attend the orientation, people need to call Kelly Waits at 770-387-3943.

“[During the training] we talk about what it’s like to parent a child that’s been through a traumatic experience and is taken away from everything that they know,” Green said. “We talk about the resources that are available to foster parents, the support. We have a great foster parent association here in Bartow County. [During] that 21 hours, we gather information from them about their personal life and that’s really the hardest part because we get pretty deep into some private information. But we do screenings to make sure that everybody that comes through has not had prior experience with DFCS, not had prior cases. We do do fingerprints and drug screens and that type of thing [as well as] criminal background checks.

“... At the end of the class a home study is written, and then once that home study is written it goes for approval and really that’s it. It does take anywhere from three to five months from the initial orientation to approval. And we have families who come through and all they want to do is adopt. They don’t want to foster and that’s fine. We have children for adoption in Bartow County that don’t have a home. We have families that are foster-to-adopt that are interested in adoption but are willing to foster and if a child should come free then would be interested in adopting. Then we’ve got some families that are just strictly here to foster and help these kids get back home to their biological parents.”

Echoing Green’s comments, Sharal Ozim — program director for Meritan Stepping Stones — emphasized the importance for prospective foster parents to be understanding and knowledgeable regarding the backgrounds of foster children.

“[There is a] need for foster parents and just their willingness to understand that the children have experienced tremendous trauma in their life so therefore require a significant amount of patience and understanding in child development,” Ozim said. “And I know that most people may know child development by raising their own children or by formal knowledge or education, however [this concerns] how child development is interrupted emotionally, psychologically in regards to when a child experienced trauma. So, if they can understand that, they can truly help the child in providing the needs of the child in terms of nurturing, appropriate attention and in structure — providing that in their lives.

“We do provide all foster parents formal training and it’s called IMPACT. So they will receive information regarding the needs of the children and their experience, like what they might have experienced and how to respond to those needs accordingly. So yes, they will receive adequate training and it’s usually 20 hours of training and ... it’s divided within several days or weeks, given the structure of the training.”

Through its offices in Cartersville and Macon, Meritan — a private, nonprofit foster care agency assisting in the placement for children with behavioral, medical or emotional challenges — is providing shelter for about 130 children in state custody. For more information about Meritan or attending an orientation meeting, call 770-387-9003 or visit www.meritan.org.