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According to Tamela Jones at the Brunswick County Department of Social Services (“DSS”), at any given time, there are over 130 children in foster care in Brunswick County. These children end up in the system because their own families are in crisis and are unable to provide for the essential well-being. While they come from many different backgrounds, each of these children have the same hopes, dreams, fears, and needs as any child. The best way to give them a safe and stable life is by matching them with a compassionate foster parent.

We spoke to three dads in Brunswick County who donate their time, energy and hearts to be foster dads. Here is what they think of their experience…

JAY MERRITT

Jay Merritt and his wife, Diane

1. How long have you been a foster parent?
Two years.  We are in the process of renewing our license, which comes every two years.

2. How did you make the decision to become one?
My wife, Diane, and I have raised three wonderful sons, who are grown and out of the home. We heard for many years about the shortage of foster homes all over the country, but we were interested in working with teenagers who needed to complete their high school education.  Through another organization, we had heard of young people who were, for the most part, homeless yet trying to finish school. They had either been kicked out of their homes or reached the age of 18 and left. We also had a separate experience with a friend of the family who took his own life while in high school due to horrific issues in the home.  We thought that maybe, if this young person had a safe place to go, they would have felt they had a better solution.  We sought out organizations we could be a part of to aid in these situations and decided to work with Brunswick County DSS.

3. Why do you think this matters?
Whatever is going on in the child’s home is not their fault.  They need a safe place of respite to reflect on what is going on and regain their mental, and spiritual, energy.  They need continuity in their lives: school, friends, activities. They need rides. They need some guidance. They need time. And they need to know that someone cares.

There isn’t a more critical time in a young person’s life than their late teen years.  If they quit their education, they will forever be held back from job opportunities. We want to help them get their diploma as they may be one of the few in their family to have done so. If they get in trouble with the law, they will be tagged for life.  We want to help them learn how to set boundaries.  We have seen too many lives destroyed or handicapped before they even begin. What is more valuable than the life of one person?

4. What is a challenge for you about fostering?
Gaining the trust of a young person is a big challenge. They often have not been able to trust anyone in their life. By far, the greatest challenge is seeing the parents through the eyes of God, who is the Father of us all. Perhaps they made one stupid mistake that brought them to this situation. Maybe the lifestyle, which they learned from their parents, has brought them here.  This does not make them a bad parent, and the child should not have to suffer for their parent’s failures. Our personal goal is not to take over their personal life, but to reunite them with the people they love.

5. What is your favorite part of fostering?
Seeing the child reunited with their family.

KEN HARRELSON

1. How long have you been a foster parent?
About three years.

2. How did you make the decision to become one?
It’s something we’ve talked about over the years; we heard the need was huge here in Brunswick County. Our kids were older so we decided it was time. If we knew then what we do now we would have done this a long time ago.

3. Why do you think this matters?
These children need to feel loved and safe and secure in a very scary time in their lives. Just about all of these children have never had stability. Some have never had things we take for granted, like bed sheets or a meal three times a day or toys of their own. It can really break your heart what children that might live right down the street from you are going through. You hear about all these stories in other places of what drug abuse or domestic violence, etc., can do to children but it’s not just other places. It is right here in Brunswick County. The next time you hear of a large drug bust by our wonderful Sheriff’s department, remember there are children that possibly just lost their parents.

4. What is a challenge for you about fostering?
Things not working out for these children. They all want to go home and sometimes that just can’t happen. There is true sorrow in their eyes and that can bring you to tears sometimes.

5. What is your favorite part of fostering?
Being to be able to see the smile on a child’s face when they finally get to go back home or go to a forever home. Then being able to stay in contact with the families. Watching them grow and watching their personalities come out.

MARK BLEVINS

1. How long have you been a foster parent & how did you make the decision to become one?
My family has been fostering for four years, though we’ve been thinking about it since before we moved down here. After our daughters were born, my wife and I knew we had more room in our hearts for a bigger family, but it wasn’t going to happen in the natural way. So we started taking the classes through Social Services for fostering. We were nervous at first since the instructor prepared us for a placement that could last a year or more before the child could be reunited with their parents, but we knew it was the right thing to do, so we finished the class, submitted our paperwork, and waited for a license – and a child.

The first child who came into our home was a blonde toddling girl who arrived one night in a white government car with a paltry diaper bag, a purple car seat, and a hesitant smile. She quickly adapted to life with our daughters, weekly visitations with her mother, court appointed drop in inspections, but missed her siblings dearly. There was no shortage of challenges with the situation, but plenty of joys. Watching her grow up and seeing her mother make tremendous improvements brought us hope for the time that would come too soon to give her back into her family.

That day never came, and our families have never been the same. Her mother died during surgery before things were in place for reunification and a suitable family placement couldn’t be found. After all of that hoping and praying for this cute little girl to get back home, we turned from foster parents into an adoptive family. It is beautiful to watch her grow and learn and develop as a Blevins now.

Just a few weeks ago, we were part of reuniting another foster daughter with her family after nearly a year in our home. People frequently say to us, “I don’t know how you do it; I couldn’t give them back.” Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and we’re happy to see her family doing so well. There is definitely a little hole in my heart where she used to sing and play and laugh with us, but she gets to do all those things with her mother now, and that’s how I would want it if I were a child away from my parents.

2. Why do you think this matters?
This is why we made the decision to become foster parents. We wanted to be a loving a supportive family for a kid whose parents can’t take care of them until their issues are sorted out. We asked our girls when we started this process if they would want someone to take care of them for a little while if my wife and I couldn’t. Obviously, they said yes, and we all agreed that we could do that so that a family could get back together when everything was okay again. It isn’t always easy, but it is beautiful when it works.It seems to me that the system is designed to be deliberately slow so the parents have every opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and find solutions to the issues they face. The slow pace also makes sure that appropriate folks weigh in on the decisions and provide time to get needed resources to the families. Unfortunately, all that time away from their family puts a strain on these kids, who didn’t do a thing to deserve this. Loving families are needed now more than ever to support these children in our communities, so I hope that more men will step up with their families to make space in their homes for kids in need.3. What is a challenge for you about fostering?

The biggest challenge for me is remembering that I’m doing this temporarily. These kids are so loveable that I treat them just like the ones I already have; I have to remember that they already have a family and I’m filling in for their father until he’s ready to be the dad again. Until then, I get to go fishing, swimming, camping and playing with these incredible kids who teach me as much about life as I try to teach them.

4. What is your favorite part of fostering?
My favorite thing about fostering is seeing the transformation through the process. It may feel like it sometimes, but time doesn’t stop when a child is removed from their family. The kid keeps growing and developing with all of the bumps along the road you would expect with your own children plus additional challenges they face through all of the transitions. Their family changes, too. I’ve seen young mothers mature into great moms and I’ve seen fathers fight for their children by taking on greater responsibility. My family has been transformed as well. Not only did we change from fostering to adopting and back again, but our hearts have grown to accommodate the flux of children coming and going from our home. My prayer is that the children who pass through our family grow to share the love we gave them with their family and others they meet. I hope they see that anything good in us is only there because we were adopted into God’s family through faith.

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Foster Care is temporary care for children who have the ultimate goal of returning home to their birth parents or other relatives. Foster parents play a vital role in understanding the needs of the children during these difficult times and with their help, intervention and nurturing can make all the difference to a child in need.

Foster Parenting is about believing and investing in the future by helping children and families who are experiencing difficult circumstances.

Prospective Foster Parents must attend the required 30 hour TIPS-MAPP training. The training will help you decide if fostering is a good match for your family and answer a lot of questions about the foster care system.

If you are interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent, contact Tamela Jones @ 910-253-2112 or tamela.jones@brunswickcountync.gov for more information.

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