Foster care agencies reaching out for volunteers

Lonnie Adamson General Manager/Editor

November 4, 2013

PICKENS – Rising need for and declining numbers of foster homes in Pickens and surrounding counties has agencies out actively looking for help.

Betsy Gray-Manning of the South Carolina Youth Advocate Program and Nikita Harrison, director of the Pickens County Department of Social Services, spoke recently to the Pickens Rotary Club about the need and different responses the agencies are trying to stem the tide.

“It is a continuous battle,” Gray-Manning said of the need to find homes for placing children in foster care.

The SC Youth Advocate Program in the Upstate serves 10-county region. At the time of Gray-Manning’s talk to the Rotary Club, about 30 families in the county served as foster homes, taking in children from troubled homes whose parents can’t care for them. At the time 160 children were in foster care. The specific need at any given time is shared by foster families across the 10-county area, she said. All counties are looking for foster families.

“These children are not all that different from my own 7-year-old,” Gray-Manning said. “But they are angry and disappointed. They are in need of caring, consistency, structure and love.”

Their previous experiences leave them with things to deal with, she said. That frequently comes out in the face of foster parents.

“I don’t want your to think we are going to hand you some rosy cheeked, happy child. This can be difficult, but they need consistency and structure.”

Her job of find foster placement is complicated by the source of the problem.

“The community does not look well on these families. There are frequently drugs involved on the part of the parents. Our focus is on the safety of the children,” Gray-Manning said.

Ultimately objective will be to get the children back into their homes with their families, but those have to be safe places.

Focus is changing to help the parents find better ways of living and caring for children so that the children can go back into safe homes.

For that reason efforts are being made to encourage the foster parents to become mentors to the natural parents, making use of their parenting skills and the relationship built with the children to facilitate the change for better parenting by the natural parents.

Another trend in foster care is an attempt to keep sibling groups together. That can be difficult to find a home that has the space to take three or four children.

Foster families need to be shown to be financially responsible and physically and emotionally able. A home inspection will be done on the foster home along with a background check. Foster parents go through 14 hours of training.

Harrison said that it is DSS responsibility to oversee the safety of the child and the relationship leading them to return home. “About 80 percent of the children return home.”

The parents have to straighten out what has led to their children being taken into foster care.

That is not always easy. she said. “Initially parents are resentful of DSS are angry and uncooperative.”

Ultimately most take the necessary steps to regain their children.

“The children want to go back to their parent in most cases,” Gray-Manning said. “They love their parents.”

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