Foster care means love

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
For Geneva Stacy, daughter Morna Rochelle and all foster parents, love is a necessity.

“I’ve always felt like the Lord called me to be a foster parent,” Stacy said. “I’ve always loved children and God has put me in several changing situations, but it’s always been where children are involved.”

Today more than 500,000 children and adolescents in the United States live in foster care. They range in age from birth to 18 years. Their hopes and dreams have been damaged by abuse and neglect from their birth families.

More than 5,000 foster children are in Kansas out-of-home care and about 2,000 of them are the responsibility of Kaw Valley Center.

In Marion County, 32 foster children live in 15 foster homes through KVC.

“The need for foster parents is high,” said Rose Vinduska, director of KVC Behavioral HealthCare’s Child Placing Agency-Salina.

“With the new contract, the state says kids taken out of their homes need to be placed in the same school district they came from.

“There’s now more pressure on the contractors to get homes that are local because kids don’t need to give up everything,” she added. “They’ve already had to give up their families-they shouldn’t have to give up their schools, friends, churches and whatever else is familiar.”

For Stacy, a widowed mother of three and grandmother of nine, foster parenting has been a way of life since 1996.

Her days of caring for other people’s children began in 1987, when she baby-sat for a couple that were foster parents.

“They said we’d make good foster parents, so we signed up and decided to become certified,” she said.

After Stacy’s husband died in 1999, Rochelle became licensed and moved in with her about six months later.

Vinduska said the requirements to be a caregiver in a foster home are rigid.

“Any adult that’s going to be providing care has to be licensed as a foster parent, and your foster home must be sponsored by a child-placing agency,” she said. “They have to go through the 30-hour training, they have to go through background checks and reference checks. It’s very thorough.”

But going through the process is worth it, Stacy said.

“If you’ve ever loved children, and your own children are in school or gone, and you have a nice home and available room, foster parenting is the most rewarding thing there is,” Stacy said. “These kids really do become a part of your life.”

Stacy’s home has been a temporary haven to 18 foster children since 1996, mostly in groups of two to four.

“That’s kind of Geneva’s specialty-sibling groups,” Vinduska said. “Sibling groups can be hard because you get a bunch of kids at one time rather than just one at a time. But Morna and Geneva really enjoy that and it works for them.”

For the past 21/2 years, their home has been home to four siblings: Shakiva (age 16), Tristian (12), Jacquari (10) and Mosharay (7).

“These are the longest I’ve ever had anyone stay with me,” Stacy said. “These four kids are up for adoption. It’s a little harder because of their age differences, but we know there’s somebody out there who will make a good home for this family.”

For now, Stacy and Rochelle spend every day caring and providing for the children, looking forward to the day their dreams come true.

“We get strongly attached to all these children, but we know going in that they’re going to leave us,” Stacy said. “When the children first come into our home, we tell them we’ll take care of them and love them as much as they will allow us to for as long as they need to be here.”

Stacy said nothing in life is as fulfilling as being a foster parent.

“(The most gratifying part) is just taking care of another human,” she said with tears welling in her eyes. “Just knowing we’re able to help someone out is a great feeling.”

But the opportunity to help foster children comes with a price-not only financially, but in time.

“Foster families get a daily reimbursement rate per child, but it irritates me when people tell me foster families are in it for the money because there just isn’t enough to cover everything they put out,” Vinduska said.

“Besides the daily rate, there’s a medical card for medical expenses, a clothing voucher and some mileage reimbursements.”

But the mileage reimbursements don’t cover day-to-day activities, Stacy said.

“It covers things like therapy, court appearances or family visits,” she said.

Stacy said the courts keep a close eye on foster homes.

“We keep in touch with them several times a year,” she said. “They’ll ask us how the kids are doing, what they’re up to, what activities they’re involved in and then decide whether to keep them where they are or not.”

Added Vinduska: “Twice a year the foster parent has to write directly to the courts so the judge knows exactly how the kids are doing and whether they’re in the right place or not. The courts have a set of checks and balances.”

Vinduska said the process of making sure children are matched properly with foster parents begins long before they’re placed in the home.

“We’ve put together a database that describes our foster families and tells what area our foster family is interested in or what they’re especially good at,” she said. “Our Admissions department then matches kids with prospective parents, but the foster parent isn’t obligated to take any children they’re not comfortable with.”

Stacy said another red flag might involve children who have a disability the caregivers don’t think they can handle.

“We have the right to tell them we don’t think it’s a good situation,” she said.

“It’s a joint decision and sometimes the KVC worker has suggestions as to who will fit with whom,” Vinduska said. “If the match isn’t a good one, we learn from it and go on.”

For prospective foster parents who work full time and think they’re not viable candidates, Vinduska said help is available.

“If you’re a working foster parent, child care will be provided,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether you work full time, stay at home, are a single parent or any other combination. The key is to love children and be willing to take the training.”

The training includes a 30-hour course called Partnering for Safety and Permanence-Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting.

“We also have to have 24 hours of training each year in order to keep our license up,” Stacy said. “We go over things like nutrition, health care and child abuse.”

In addition, each licensed foster home must meet licensing guidelines set forth by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“That covers things like how many square feet per child in a bedroom, no trampolines, fences around swimming pools and general guidelines that assure the children’s safety,” Vinduska said.

Added Stacy: “We also have to have a certain level of liability on our car because we’re transporting the kids a lot. We take them to the dentist and therapy and whatever is necessary.”

Vinduska’s expectations of foster parents are simple: “That they’ll take these kids wherever is necessary-just like they would their own children.”

Keeping her four kids involved hasn’t been a problem.

“While they’re here, we try to get them involved in school activities, church activities and things to keep them busy and in a learning process,” Stacy said.

Added Vinduska: “These kids are very much accepted in this community. This is their home.”

Shakiva and her three siblings had been living in a major metropolitan area. She said moving to Durham was quite a change.

“It’s different,” she said with a smile. “It’s really small, but it’s fun being here.”

Children who have moved on still consider Durham a part of their lives, Stacy said.

“We keep in contact with most of the kids after they leave here. They all call me grandma. They see me and come up and hug me and write to me and tell me they love me. It’s very gratifying.”

The ability to love foster children as their own is a common trait among foster parents.

“We get pretty attached to some of these kids and even thought about adopting,” Rochelle said. “But because of our ages, we didn’t think that was the thing to do.

“And we decided we’d be able to help a lot more children by being foster parents.

“It makes you feel really good when they go to a happy home,” she added. “It just gives you hope.

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