Says experience worthwhile despite procedures, training
By ALEXIS RUFENER
It’s easier to become a parent, than it is to become a foster parent.
“We put (prospective foster parents) through an intense training program of 12 weeks to teach them about our kids and what it means to be a foster parent,” said Patty Amendolea, community education specialist at Mahoning County Children’s Services.
Mary Noble of Struthers has been a foster parent for 17 years. In that time, she’s fostered 64 children. At one time, she had up to six foster children in her home.
“It’s changed a lot over the years. They’re down to 12 classes now … three hours each one. They cover all the different issues that some of the kids will be going through and how to best help them,” she said.
“You have to get a psych evaluation … and fingerprinting for the local, state and federal background checks. There’re IRS checks, home inspections, safety audits. Once that’s all done, you get your license to be a foster mom and you wait for the phone to ring.”
Foster parents, however, are always under scrutiny. In 2007, Ohio lawmakers mandated daily background checks for foster families.
In December, Mahoning County began using the Rap Back service to accomplish this.
“Rap Back is a way to ensure that there is nobody living in a foster home who has been arrested, charged or convicted of any kind of a violent crime without us knowing about it,” said Karey Karr, independent living coordinator at Mahoning County Children’s Services. “In the past, the license to foster was good for two years. So, every two years, a foster family would go through the finger printing and a criminal background check. Rap Back was designed for in between those times.”
The system works with the county’s SACWIS database, which houses all documentation on foster families and foster children. Each foster parent is assigned an identification number.
“If they happen to get arrested for something, we’re going to get notified,” said Karr.
Prior to this, the foster parents were asked to voluntarily disclose arrests, charges and convictions within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, a caseworker is assigned to work with a foster family.
“They have to go out there every other month and have face-to-face contact. And in the month they don’t have face-to-face contact, they have to have phone contact with the foster family,” said Karr. “If there is a foster child in their home, that’s another caseworker coming to the house.
“Someone is in our foster homes all the time.
Despite precautions most child services agencies take, problems exist.
Quincy Harris, 24, of Massillon, formerly of Warren, was 12 when he was put into the foster care. He’s seen two sides of the system.
Harris said the first foster home he was taken to seemed to be a happy one, until the caseworker left. Then, the foster mother watched as Harris showered and dressed for bed, and then locked him into a bedroom in the basement.
“I was trapped in that basement. If anything were to happen, such as fire breaking out, I’m locked in the basement,” said Harris. “I told my caseworker. It didn’t sound like they believed me. Nobody ever did anything about it.”
Luckily for Harris, he and a cousin found a good home with an “old-fashioned” foster mother.
“We butted heads on a lot of things, but I felt like she genuinely loved me regardless of what we got into an argument about,” he said. “She taught us basically how to be independent without showing us, we were able to do things for ourselves.”
He does offer a suggestion for improvement.
“The (foster parent screenings) need to be re-evaluated, especially with the application process, so it’s better in favor of helping the children out.”
Courtney Booze, 20, of Darlington, Pa., agrees. She was put into foster care as an infant and placed into 36 homes.
“If you’re going to place a foster child, then (the agencies) should go through better screening to pick a family. Not just, ‘What’s the easiest?’” she said.
Booze also said caseworkers deserve scrutiny.
“I was lucky enough when I was 12 that I got a caseworker who actually cared,” said Booze. “Before that I was just passed from different caseworker to different caseworker. I had caseworkers, who would say they came (on a house visit) – tell the bosses they came. I didn’t see them for six or seven months at a time.
“Don’t get me wrong. I have had wonderful caseworkers, but there’s also the ones that don’t care or are just unnoticed.”
Because of her experience, Booze said she would consider becoming a foster parent herself.
“I’ve thought about it, yes. Just for the simple fact of one kid telling me, ‘You don’t know what I’m feeling,’” she said. “I can say, ‘Yes, I do. ’Cause I’ve been through it.’ I hate (foster care), but I’m also thankful for it.”
Noble said the experience of fostering children is worth the hassle of background checks, lengthy training and other requirements.
“We keep saying we’re not going to do it anymore, but then you watch TV and you hear the stories and – you can’t quit, because we don’t have enough foster homes.
“I always call these kids ‘my kids.’ They’re not a foster kid. They’re my kids.”
Noble stays in touch with her former foster children.
“We bought an 800 number and a P.O. Box so no matter where they go, they can always get to us,” she said. “We still have kids that contact us all the time that are in Georgia and in Virginia. We try to stay involved with them so if anything ever does happen, they can get back to us and we can help.”
Noble said she’s gotten a lot out of her experience in foster care, including two children she and her husband adopted.
“Christopher – we got him when he was 2-days-old and we were able to adopt him at 4. He just turned 10,” she said. “And now, we’ve got Amaya, who’s 2.”
Noble urges more people to get involved in foster parenting.
“Because until you can make sure every mom and da treats their kid perfect, or at least they’re not hurting them, neglecting them, abusing them – then, we need more foster parents.”
- www.MahoningKids.com , (330) 941-8888.
- www.TrumbullCSB.org , (330) 372-2010.
- www.ColumbianaCountyJFS.org, (330) 424-1471.
- www.childwelfare.gov, 1-800-394-3366.
Nicolette Pizzuto, Brittany Wenner and Jessica Mowchan contributed to this report.
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