“In honor of Foster Care Month, we will be recognizing the foster care program and foster care parents,” said Terry Catlett, director of Catoosa County Department of Family and Children Services. “We are the agency that is licensed to recruit, train and monitor family foster homes. We now have 25 families in Catoosa County.”
Families are eligible for the program based on several factors, like what their needs are and what they want. “They might want one child, or they might want four,” Catlett said. “Other things that come into play are bed space and household occupancy size.”
As a result, many current families already have all the children they can care for, she said.
“While 25 may seem like a lot, some of these kids are in there for the long term,” Catlett said. “If for some reason that child can’t go back home and it is not feasible for the child to be freed for adoption by the courts, then they can enter into a long term foster care agreement with a foster family that has a bond and relationship with them.”
When possible, some foster parents choose to adopt.
“Some foster families adopt the children that are in their home,” Catlett said.
Foster parents Richard and Becky Parker of Rossville chose to adopt.
“We tried to have biological children and never were able to,” Richard said. “So we decided to be foster parents to maybe be able to adopt.”
But they did not just sign up and start caring for children.
“We had to go to training for 10 weeks,” Becky said.
New foster parents attend a 30-hour Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting training course. “It’s a group training that is lead by one of our workers here and another foster parent who has been trained and is a co-trainer with her,” Catlett said.
This course gives potential foster parents a look at what they may be facing.
“That really gives them an opportunity to find out what kinds of children we have, what fostering really is, what the rewards are and what some of the heartaches and problems are,” Catlett said.
Many of the children come with problems foster families will have to deal with.
“They just have to realize that these children come with problems,” Richard said. “They can cause problems in your home. You have to be prepared to deal with that. Some people are not.”
These problems can come from various sources.
“Children who have been removed from their homes generally have experienced some sort of significant trauma,” Catlett said. “It may be abuse or neglect, or it may be abandonment. It may be drug or alcohol abuse in the home that caused the parents not to meet the children’s needs.”
No matter the problem, foster families must face them and be supportive.
“The older children seem to be angry because they have been taken from their families,” Becky said. “They are usually mad at you as the foster family and DFCS because they feel it is your fault they are not with their biological family.”
“It is hard to make the children understand that the situation is not our fault, that we just open our home to them and give them a place to stay while their parents work through their problems,” Becky said. “It takes a lot of patience and a lot of understanding.”
After training, if prospective foster families choose to continue the process, then they must pass a few tests which are paid for by DFCS.
“A medical exam is required for every member of the household, and certain blood tests are required for communicable diseases,” Catlett said. “A sanitation expert for the county does a visit to the home and checks for safety factors such as gates, fences around pools, septic tanks, water supply, physical health and safety issues.”
Criminal background checks, drug tests, proof of citizenship and valid car insurance are also required, she said.
“It is a pretty comprehensive examination of the parents motivation and their ability to care for these children, who really are someone else’s children,” Catlett said.
But there is no minimum income level to qualify.
“A lot of statistics tell us that the most successful foster parents are families on somewhat limited means,” she said.
It is not a way to get extra income.
“You don’t get rich,” Richard said.
In addition to their two boys, the Parkers currently are caring for three foster children.
“Foster parents are reimbursed for the care of the children in their home,” Catlett said. “It is called a per diem, a daily rate per child which is right now at $12 per day for every child in the home.”
It is not a money-making venture at all, she said.
“Money does not raise a child,” Catlett said. “While we do not have a minimum income level, we do need to help families understand that there is no way around the fact that it is going to cost them money.”
While it can get expensive, especially when taking the children out on activities, many foster parents look to area organizations for extra help.
“We raise money through our Foster Parents Association; we lobby for the children to have more activities,” said Becky, who is also president of the Catoosa County Foster Parents Association. “We have a Christmas party, and Easter egg hunt and a back-to-school party for the children. We buy them school supplies.”
They also get additional help from area organizations like the Family Collaborative and Christ’s Chapel Share and Care Mission, among others.
Since becoming foster parents, the Parkers have cared for around 28 children in their home.
“We’ve had them stay with us from two to three days up to two and a half years,” Richard said.
They believe one of the keys to being successful foster parents is working closely with DFCS.
“Keeping our case managers informed on what’s going on with the child; that makes it easier for us and them to meet their needs.” Becky said.
The Parkers feel there are great benefits to helping these children in need.
It is a blessing, even for a short period of time, to be able to share your love and show them there’s a better side of life than what they may have been accustomed to, Becky said.
“One of the biggest benefits is when they come up and give you a big old hug and a kiss and tell you they love you just out of the blue for no reason at all,” Richard said.
There is always a need for additional foster families in Catoosa County.
“We are in need of homes for all ages,” Catlett said. “The most critical are ages six through 17. Those are the ages of the children we have the most trouble finding homes for.”
DFCS has a recruitment drive underway.
“We are right now distributing flyers through the school system, Ringgold Telephone Company, Northwest Georgia Bank and Gateway Bank to try to get the word out,” Catlett said.
Catoosans interested in finding out more about becoming a foster care family may contact Catoosa County Department of Family and Children Services at (706) 935-2368.
To support the efforts of Catoosa County Foster Parents Association, please contact them at 68 East Huntington Road, Rossville, Ga. 30741. Bi-Lo shoppers can also support the association by picking them as one of their three Bi-Lo Booster choices. With each grocery purchase, shoppers can support their favorites local charities who then receive a quarterly donation