November, 22 2017

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Fostering Requires Firm Rules and a Warm Heart

Jimmy Adkins doesn�t intimidate easily when it comes to child-rearing.

Adkins, 41, is the sole son from a family of seven. He�s used to large families, and now he has a complex one of his own.

Adkins is single, the foster parent of three teenage boys, and the adoptive father of 11-year-old Luke, who started as one of his foster children.

That equals five guys in one home. Two dogs are part of the scene, too.

But Adkins didn�t look stressed out as he sat at the dining room table in his Stephens City townhouse and talked about being a foster parent.

Adkins decided to try fostering because he always had plans to adopt.

He knows the kids who started coming to his home six years ago � he is still in contact with the first two children he cared for � have to deal with some big issues, which he confronts head-on.

�I believe in realism,� Adkins said as the sounds from the basement TV rose to the home�s first floor.

He keeps in regular contact with all the boys� teachers, takes them to all of their appointments � court, counseling, doctors, and more � and he�s willing to confront the children if it appears they�re telling tales.

He keeps simple ground rules: Don�t call each other liars or stupid; take your laundry downstairs; put the dishes in the sink.

He and the boys built the home�s back deck together, created the patio, and assembled stained-glass panels to hang in a front window.

Adkins beamed with pride as he recalled telling someone about how the boys worked on the panels, and how the kids glowed as he mentioned their accomplishments.

The routines are pretty set in Adkins� home, and the boys follow them pretty well, with some normal teenage-style exceptions like trying to push a curfew.

�It�s just a typical house,� Adkins said.

Routine means quite a bit to children in foster care, and sometimes it can rank right up there with hugs and kisses, according to Clarke County Director of Social Services Angie Jones.

But to have a life like that found in the Adkins household, there must be foster families willing to bring children into their homes.

There are 120 children from Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties in the foster care system, Jones said.

The three jurisdictions jointly train foster parents and work together to place children in the right foster homes.

Thirty children are placed outside of home environments, in residential or treatment centers or outside the area, Jones said. The remaining children are cared for by about 60 foster parents, and that number just isn�t enough.

The wishes for more parents run from highly optimistic to fairly pragmatic.

�I�d say another 60 [are needed],� Jones said.

�That�d be great,� responded Frederick County Department of Social Services Director Gwen Monroe, who added she would be happy with another 30.

�I was thinking 10,� said Frederick County Department of Social Services Foster Care and Adoption Supervisor Eileen Martelli.

The departments need people to care for children of all kinds, and they particularly need foster parents who can speak Spanish and are willing to take teenagers.

More African-American parents would also help, Jones said.

�We�re just looking for a few good parents,� she said.

With a greater number of parents, children can be placed with the right families, all of the social services professionals said.

Appropriate matches are key, considering that children typically stay in foster care an average of 11/2 to 2 years in the Winchester area, Jones said.

None of the professionals denied that being a foster parent is a difficult job.

And it�s a different process than raising a biological child, said Martelli, who was brought up with foster siblings and has been a foster parent herself.

It requires a unique blend of attachment and detachment, Monroe said.

Most of the children in the foster system have families they care for and are loyal to, and foster parents must be cognizant of that fact, Jones said.

Adkins said he is completely neutral when it comes to family relations, and two of his foster children regularly see a family member.

His first two foster children returned to family, he said. However, he still has contact with both those boys.

Martelli�s former foster children are now adults, and they also stay in contact with her, she said.

However, caring for a foster child is just like raising a biological child in some pretty practical ways.

�Foster care is for all hours � a part of everyday life,� Martelli said.

Making the decision to become a foster parent may also require years of thought. Martelli and her husband considered becoming foster parents for 15 years before they went through the necessary training.

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can attend the free training needed to become one, said Clarke-Frederick-Winchester Foster Care Training Coordinator Bridget Diehl.

The next round of classes will begin March 3 and continue for 10 weeks, Diehl said.

The course lets people know what foster care is all about, while also giving social services workers a chance to assess potential parents, Diehl said.

Those taking the course learn how children come into the foster care system and how it works, how to deal with a child�s grief and loss issues, and the best ways to care for children with special needs like those who have been sexually abused, exposed to drugs, or dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Jones said.

People are not obligated to finish the program, nor are they required to become foster parents at the end.

Social services departments may also reject people they feel are not ready to be foster parents, or who do not meet the requirements.

Single people, like Adkins, can be foster parents, as long as they�re older than 18, Martelli said.

The prospective parent must undergo child protective services, criminal history, and tuberculosis checks, Jones said.

If a person or couple decides to go ahead with being a foster parent, they will have support from individual social workers and in the form of continued training, Diehl and Martelli said.

The Clarke-Frederick-Winchester workers are available to not only train, but also help families through rough spots.Training�s great, but nothing can fully prepare a person for having a new teenager in the house, Jones said.

But when someone needs an answer to a question like, �She will not get out of bed. What do I do now?� someone will be able to answer, Jones said.

The departments are also always trying to improve their support services, Martelli said.

�Communication, communication, communication,� is the key to providing children with quality care, especially when a multiplicity of people are involved in each foster child�s life, Martelli said.

Natural and foster parents, court dates, school systems, social workers, councilors, reports � these are all regular parts of a foster child�s world, the local social services professionals said.

But even with all of the work involved for a foster parent, the rewards are considerable.

Adkins has gotten �that inner joy� by opening his home, he said.

And his boys are successful. One is preparing to graduate from high school. Luke has been integrated in regular school classes.

His favorite class is math, he said as he sat in the doorway of his slightly messy room.

For Luke, foster care led to his adoption by Adkins. But no matter how long a child stays in the foster care system, the person who cares for them makes a huge difference.

�You change the world, one person at a time,� Jones said.

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