Foster Parenting Helps Kids, Enriches Families

Whether a child remains in foster care for three months or three years, foster parents change lives.

Many children in Alabama are waiting for a loving home. To help meet this need, Embrace Alabama Kids will host an interest meeting via Zoom on August 10 at 9:30 am to share information and answer questions about becoming foster parents.

“These children have not had someone consistent, supportive, and loving in their lives,” said Luke Powell, director of North Alabama contract programs. “A foster parent can change a child’s life dramatically, even in a short period of time.”

Luke Powell, director of North Alabama contract programs

For many adults, the idea of foster parenting can be daunting, but those who decide to invest in children’s lives as foster parents find the experience very fulfilling. When asked about the benefits of foster parenting, Allie Hodges, an Embrace foster parent of more than six years, responded, “Just the joy! This child brings us so much joy! It’s life changing.” Hodges’ words demonstrate the beauty of parenting another person’s child, despite the challenges.

“People focus so much on how hard they think it’s going to be that they lose the ministry focus of being a foster parent: being the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Lyndi Collier, foster care program manager for South Alabama. “We’re not looking for perfect parents. We’re looking for people who care and who can help a child feel safe.”

Lyndi Collier, South Alabama foster care program manager

The South Alabama program operates in the area within a 60-mile radius of Andalusia and Dothan, and Collier expects demand for foster care to grow. Foster families are matched with kids based on how well the child’s needs will fit the strengths and dynamics of the foster family. When matching children to foster families, staff consider the age of the child, level of care required, other children in the family, and a variety of other factors. Having a large number of diverse foster families leads to finding a better “fit” for families and foster children.

“We were very nervous [when considering foster parenting],” Hodges said, “but the joy always outweighed the bad. We have friends who have seen our journey and are encouraged by it.” Some of those friends, she said, are now foster parents themselves.

In the Wiregrass region, at least 15 additional foster families are needed; in Conecuh, Escambia, Butler, and Monroe counties, at least 12 more families are needed. In the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham area, there is great demand for foster families who will serve teens.

Hodges said the Embrace staff fully supports the foster family throughout the training, home visit, licensure, and fostering experiences. “That’s what I love about Embrace; they’re always there. When I can’t talk to the caseworker, I contact Embrace, and they’ll do it. Embrace always steps in and makes sure we have what we need.”

In addition to providing licensing and support, the ministry regularly coordinates educational and fun activities for foster children. Whether it is a trip to the zoo, water park, or science museum, activities of this nature are stimulating for kids and provide a bit of respite for foster parents.

“If families are interested in foster care even the slightest bit, they should reach out to us,” Powell said. “Let’s have a conversation about how they can help.”

Collier said interested persons can be helpful even if they are not prepared to offer full-time foster care. “We need grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles that can keep kids on an occasional weekend or for a week to provide respite or emergency care. We want to keep the full-time foster care family healthy.”

“People’s concerns about fostering may include becoming too attached, ‘messing up’ as a foster parent, or the effect it may have on their own children, including the loss of the foster child when fostering ends,” Collier added. “We want foster families to feel connected to the children they are serving. These kids have experienced hurt and need safe adults who care about them. We can help foster families work though the grief they may experience when children move on from their home.”

“There are growing pains for everyone at first,” Hodges said. Even so, she said, foster parenting has enriched her family. The child her family currently fosters is two years old, and she said he is thriving. “There’s nothing like seeing them happy. He’s a different child now. Of course, it’s hard when a foster child leaves. Sometimes it hurts, but it’s worth it.”

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, register for our upcoming Foster Parent Interest Meeting (via Zoom) by clicking here.

Alabama Family Fully Embraces Family Preservation Program

When David and Janelle Turner went to court in hopes of getting custody of their grandchildren who had been placed in foster care, the judge asked one important question: “Exactly how large is your heart?”

Mrs. Turner thought a moment before answering. She has no biological children of her own – the kids are her stepson’s and his wife’s – and she knew that big changes were ahead. Instead of focusing on the uncertainty, though, she answered from her heart. “It’s big enough for these two,” she said. “I realized you don’t actually have to birth a child to love them. I’m a very tenderhearted, loving person and I have a lot to offer.”

The children, ages 4 and 2, will need plenty of love and stability going forward. Their parents, who at one time lived with the Turners, lost custody of the kids due to excessive drug use, neglect and family conflict. The children were in foster care for eight weeks, and the Embrace Alabama Kids staff helped the Turners with the reunification process and have provided a variety of supportive services.

“I feel like right now we are in a much better place because of what they offered,” Mrs. Turner said. “I’m taking everything they offer to help our family. If we are going to do this, I want it to be done the right way.”

The goal of Embrace Alabama Kid’s Family Preservation program is to provide intensive in-home treatments to equip families with the skills they need to stay together in a safe, healthy home. Statistics show that children who enter foster care have a 50 percent chance of remaining in foster care until they age out, so if reunification with family is possible, that’s the best outcome.

The children’s parents have left the home, and the Family Preservation staff is helping the Turners with parenting and discipline techniques. They’ve established a reward system for the children to encourage good behavior, and have worked together to ensure that the home is safe and in good repair. The staff helped arrange for day care and speech therapy for the children, as well as weekly counseling for the family.

“The things that were causing us heartache are no longer here,” Mrs. Turner said. “Now we’re living in positivity. It’s no longer about us, it’s about the children. It’s about the whole package.”

Christy Foley, a Family Intervention Specialist for Embrace Alabama Kids, said she is pleased with the progress the family has made. The Turners have met each requirement and are helping the children to learn life skills, such as dressing themselves. They have also been diligent in ensuring that the oldest child, who has some health issues, gets the medical care he needs.

“They’re a sweet little family,” Foley said. “This is the only home the children have known and it’s a comfort for them. Mr. and Mrs. Turner love them and take good care of them.”

Mrs. Turner said she is grateful for the support she and her husband have received from the Family Preservation staff. “To me, a family is a whole unit working together to overcome anything that is thrown at them,” she said. “We’re working together as a family. A lot of things are changing, but they’re changing in a positive way.”

Montgomery Ministry Affiliates with Embrace Alabama Kids

Mary Ellen’s Hearth (MEH) at Nellie Burge Community Center, a ministry focused on serving homeless women and children, is now an affiliate of the Embrace Alabama Kids.

As a result of the affiliation, Embrace Alabama Kids will carry out the day-to-day operations at the ministry’s Montgomery-based facility that provides safe living space for ten homeless moms and up to 20 children. While addressing the adversity these mothers face in regaining their independence, they’re provided a safe home along with their children.

With collaboration and synergy as the driving forces that brought both organizations into a series of discussions, it was soon determined that they could make a greater impact and further their respective missions by working together. Both ministries have Methodist roots and both have wide-ranging support across Central Alabama.

“Mary Ellen’s Hearth’s mission and values are closely aligned with ours,” said Dr. Blake Horne, Embrace Alabama Kids President & CEO. “We are both faith-based organizations with Methodist roots and share a focus on providing homes, healing and hope to vulnerable populations.”

Mothers at Mary Ellen’s Hearth are equipped with the tools and resources needed to help their children learn and grow.

With this impactful program becoming a part of Embrace Alabama Kid’s continuum of services, Embrace Alabama Kids says donors who choose to give to its ministry can know their support extends further than it did before. With the stage set for a fruitful affiliation, the future of Mary Ellen’s Hearth is much more promising even amidst a hard-hit economy.

“We look forward to being able to provide additional staff and programming resources that weren’t previously available to Mary Ellen’s Hearth,” said Dr. Horne. “At the end of the day, it’s about serving the vulnerable and sharing God’s unconditional love, and we couldn’t be more optimistic about expanding our ability to do that through this new affiliation.”

Mary Ellen’s Hearth at Nellie Burge Community Center is funded in part by the River Region United Way, community partners and individual donors.