Announcer: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell, and Tera Melber.
Lynette: Welcome back to the adopting and fostering home podcast. Today we’re going to continue our conversation with Rebecca Davidson. Rebecca, thanks for hanging tight and spending time with us again today. We appreciate it.
Rebecca: Thank you for the invite.
Lynette: Rebecca, you’ve been with the Department of Family and Children Services here in our state of Georgia for 21 years, and I’m sure you’ve seen it all.
Rebecca: Well, I try not to tell myself that, because when you challenge worse something, worse comes along.
Lynette: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, Absolutely. But you’ve just been such a public servant. We’re so grateful for you. Let’s talk today about becoming a foster parent, the first steps. Kind of remove those fears and the barriers and help us get started. Like, who’s a good candidate? Let’s start from there.
Rebecca: Well, we certainly aren’t just looking for wealthy people, we’re looking for stable people.
Tera: Uh hum.
Rebecca: Single people can be foster parents, married couples, divorcees, widowers, widows. The age limit: if you’re single you have to be at least 25 years of age. There is no particular age limit for married couples.
Rebecca: You have to have sufficient income to cover your own family’s needs, with just a little bit left over..
Rebecca: ..because the help financial that you get from the state is a reimbursement system, so it comes sort of after the fact.
Rebecca: You have to have a relatively clean criminal history. We’re going to forgive the odd parking ticket.
Lynette: Grateful. Then I can still do it.
Rebecca: But there are certain deal breakers, of course. You know, violent crime, drug related crime, and the ultimate deal breaker, and I don’t even care how old it is, sexual crime.
Tera: Um hum.
Rebecca: Obviously, those folks are not going to move forward in the process.
Rebecca: You have to have stable housing. I’ve had foster parents from everything from cute little double wide trailers all the way up to multimillion dollar mansions, everything in between.
Rebecca: You have to be willing to abide by the state’s requirements and come to what we call an information session as step one. You can do it online at Foster Georgia or come to your office. And I tell people those are better because you get to meet the staff,…
Tera: Um hum.
Lynette: Right. I agree.
Rebecca: …and hear how it works locally. Then, a home visit is done. Safety walk-through, real quick. How do you store your chemicals? How do you store your weapons? Is there a pool in the backyard? Just a quick safety check. Then 24 hours of training that takes place over four weekends.
Lynette: Um hum.
Rebecca: And a home study is written. In Region Two in Georgia, we write 80 to 90 percent of all of our own home studies within our unit, because we want to know our people.
Lynette: Oh, that’s great.
Rebecca: It’s very, very important to understand their parental capacities, their cultural idiosyncrasies. We need to know them so that we can then match them with a child…
Rebecca: …who’s needs they can fit.
Lynette: That’s great. And that matching process is so important, isn’t it?
Rebecca: Um hum. Very, very much so. Three different families on the same block might have three entirely different personal views of how…
Lynette: That’s right.
Rebecca: …supervision works. And, of course, they have to follow the quidelines. But, we want to make sure that if we’re putting a child with a lot of trauma related behaviors into a home, they have the love and the patience and the understanding of the origins of that trauma and that behavior to where they can meet that child’s needs.
Lynette: As far as the training goes, the 24 hours of training, it’s called Impact Training in Georgia. I’m sure it’s different all over the United States, but, what do you think is beneficial? I know people are thinking, “Oh, man, 24 hours!” But, it’s absolutely necessary, because these are not, if you’ve parented before, your biological children who have grown up in a safe and loving environment their entire lives. These are children who’ve experienced some pretty horrific things, typically, whether it be neglect or abuse of some sort. It’s just different.
Rebecca: Well, it very much is. The training is, for instance, when I’m teaching it, I’ll do two hours on a Friday night, four hours on a Saturday. The class is 15 separate modules. It goes over trauma related behaviors; how to identify signs of abuse, neglect, and deprivation; mandated reporting; behavior management technics for children of trauma, because, of course, no corporal punishment at all.
Rebecca: So, how do you modify that child’s behavior? How do you teach that child how to self soothe and to self-manage…
Tera: Um hum.
Rebecca: And sort of build self-skills within the child and within the family. Typically, for an Impact class, it’s anywhere from six to eight to ten families. We had 12 just graduate in Forsyth County, which is super exciting. And we also invite current foster parents to sit in the class. We had two current foster families come through this last training. It’s so important because no matter what the modules say,
Rebecca: No matter what theory said,
Rebecca: These people are doing it.
Tera: Um hum.
Tera: That’s why we enjoy doing the podcasts.
Tera: And I think we’ve gotten encouragement because we don’t really follow a book, you know.
Tera: It’s just what the Lord’s taught us in doing this. And that’s what I hear you saying.
Rebecca: Right. Absolutely.
Lynette: Feet on the ground is different than words in a book.
Tera: That’s right.
Rebecca: Oh, so much so. I was very grateful to the foster parents that came through this last class. And, during the class, the prospective foster parents, they start forming connections.
Rebecca: The most beneficial support group to any foster parent are the other foster parents. They know the walk that you’re on.
Lynette: That’s right.
Rebecca: They understand your journey. They understand the difficulties. And when you need that shoulder to vent, or, hey, I’m not having good luck with this pediatrician, do you know another pediatrician that’s good that takes this insurance? It’s just hugely important for them to create their own internal support network.
Lynette: What are some things that you think parents should consider about themselves, to determine if they would be a good candidate for foster care?
Rebecca: Well, I think they have to look internally, and we do a lot of that in the class. How strong is your relationship?
Rebecca: If you’re in a marriage, it’s so important that the husband and the wife be on the same page.
Lynette: Um hum.
Rebecca: Many a couple I’ve had long talks with and ultimately had them step back from the journey, because you find out, not picking on guys here, but you find out the guy’s kinda just along for the ride because the wife’s had this passionate call to do this. That’s not gonna work.
Lynette: No, it isn’t.
Rebecca: That’s not gonna work. They have to both want the same thing. They have to both go into it with the same mindset that most children come in under a reunification case plan.
Rebecca: And that is both federal and state mandates. And that we work, it’s the right thing to do as well, that we work with the birth mom, the birth dad, the extended birth family, when safe, to try to get that child home. And if one’s coming in under, “No, I really can’t do that.” And the other one’s like, “Yeah, I can do that.” That’s no going to work, either.
Rebecca: We ask families to have family conversations. Sit down and talk to your immediate nuclear family, but also your extended family.
Tera: Now, that’s a great point.
Rebecca: Find out how grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncles, cousins, all these people that come to your home every Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving. Particularly if you’re interested in doing transracial or transcultural fostering. You and your immediate spouse may have no problem whatsoever, but some of our older relatives from different generations might have a different perspective.
Lynette: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Tera: It is.
Lynette: Well, how do you counsel people when they are determining what children that would best be suited for them to foster? As far as age, or their complex trauma, or the things the child has experienced. How do you match that up?
Rebecca: Well, I’m so glad you asked that because we do something a little bit different in my region, which I love. Part of the home study process is multiple in-home visits with the family. And, I myself, I’m still writing a dozen different home studies currently. I go, I sit down, and the very first visit is nothing but discussion of different issues: trauma, your personal history. As a great example, I had a foster mother who’d been a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She felt that that prepared her to deal with that. Point of fact, it was the opposite.
Lynette: Um. It triggered…
Rebecca: It did. It did. Bless her heart. But, she went into it with nothing but the best of intentions. So we have long conversations about the foster mom’s history, the foster dad’s history, all the different usual, and there’s always the all other as doesn’t apply, because you never know what a child’s gonna have experienced. And from that, we figure out what their parental capacities are and what the best match is gonna be.
Lynette: Well, I know that reunification is the goal for children, that it’s mandated by the state and local governments, which is good.
Lynette: It’s the best thing for children to be reunified if it’s a safe and stable environment. And families breaking apart is really heart wrenching. But do you ever see birth parents who are not able to break the cycle that they’re in? And, if so, do foster parents ever have the opportunity, or are they ever asked to adopt the children out of foster care?
Rebecca: Oh, absolutely. There is no barrier to adoption from straight foster care from partnership parenting, as we call it now. Say this child’s been in this home for over a year and everyone’s fallen in love with everybody else. The child’s happy, safe, nurtured. That’s gonna be their forever home.
Lynette: I know in Georgia our numbers are astounding, just like I’m sure they are all over the country. And there was recently a local news story that said that our numbers had increased 75% over the last, well, since 2013. And a lot of it is due to the prescription drug use, opioid crisis.
Lynette: Would you say that was what you’re seeing most of? And, of course, the children are the ones that are suffering from all of that. So, in this nationwide trend, knowing these statistics, what challenge do you give to listeners who are hearing that we’ve gone from 7,600 kids in care to now nearly 14,000, in just a four year time period.
Rebecca: I would challenge you to go to your churches that you belong to, to your community organizations that you belong to, and talk about the need in your community, right here, right now. Reach out to your local DFACS and have them send a speaker. But each community is a village unto itself.
Rebecca: Everyone’s different. Everyone has a different set of needs. Those numbers are not wrong. I know in Habersham County, Georgia just two years ago there was all of like 32 children in custody. Today I think there’s 110.
Rebecca: And it’s not a big county. It’s huge. So, if you’re listening to this, decide to be part of the solution.
Rebecca: Decide to be part of the village that’s taking care of the needs of these children. Get your church involved. Get your community, your Kiwanis, your Lion’s Club, whatever organizations you belong to. Or, if you don’t, that’s fine, too. Come on down to DFACS. Talk to them. Say, “What can I do to help?” Find out who the local point person is in your community to step up to the plate and say, “Let me do something.”
Rebecca: If we do not start addressing this, we wind up with critical shortages of foster homes. We wind up with children without appropriate matches. It gets down to that desperate, I just need somewhere for this child to be safe and sleep tonight, as opposed to, is this the absolute best fit for this child?
Rebecca: I want to get back to doing the very best work, as does every agency in the country. I mean, they go into this for that purpose. We need homes, we need stability, and we need action. People need to stop sitting on the sidelines.
Tera: Right. What do you think some of the preconceived notions that people have about foster kids are? I mean, are they all teenagers? Are they all behaviorally challenged in some way? What do you think the fears are that people come into when you are teaching your Impact classes and doing the training? What are people afraid of? Do they think that there’s only going to be teenagers, and that freaks them out? What would you say?
Rebecca: Well, when we get to the module on lice and scabies, that usually freaks a few people in the room out. But, teenagers definitely; people worry about them. There’s a fear that the level of trauma and behaviors will not be manageable, they will not be able to find appropriate and loving discipline to reeducate and form these children in a better pathway. There is genuine fear amongst people that if a child has been sexually abused, they are automatically going to be a threat to other children. And that simply isn’t true. If every single human being who’d ever been sexually abused was an automatic predator, you couldn’t walk down the streets safely.
Lynette: That’s exactly right.
Rebecca: Couldn’t go to the local grocery store safely. So that is not true. We try to put, realistically, as many of those fears to rest as we can.
Rebecca: Are there behaviors? Yes. Do teenagers do things that we’re not happy with? Yes. My 18-year-old son regularly trashes his room. I am not happy with this. It’s pretty typical, just because…
Lynette: Were you at my house this morning?
Rebecca: No. No, no. So much of what our kids exhibit is the same behaviors…
Lynette: It’s typical. Yes.
Rebecca: Just maybe a little bit more so.
Rebecca: It’s manageable. It’s fixable. These are beautiful human beings with beautiful souls that have had a really terrible hand dealt to them. And I really feel it’s our responsibility, and when I say our, I mean DFACS, the community, the churches. It’s our responsibility to offer them a different way.
Lynette: I agree. And if we can do wraparound care and take care of our foster families, then they feel refreshed enough to be able to handle the things that are thrown their way. Or if they receive the training and they don’t just do the 24 hours of training, they then have to have continuing training, as well, through the course of their foster care parenting. So, empowering parents to know how to parent these children in the very best possible way to help them become the best version and the most healed that they possibly can. Doing all of those things can keep kids in one placement, whether they are reunified or they go through an adoption placement. But, it gives them the stability that they can really heal and be restored.
Rebecca: It really does. I always remember there was this young man that we took into foster care from a multi generational broken and dysfunctional family. His family was so infamous, all you had to do is mention the name at the juvenile court and the judge would, Poom! You know, done. Because this family was like the local petty criminals for the entire county. He got into this amazing foster home. The foster dad was a coach at the local high school. The foster mom was a teacher. They nurtured him, they loved him, they showed him a different pathway. They took a chance on a teenager. A teenager from one of the worst families in the county. And the day that young man walked back into the DFACS office in his Marine dress blues…
Rebecca: There was not a hormonally-ridden, middle aged dry eye in the entire building. I can assure you, we all bawled like babies because we were so–it was like our own baby had made it. We were so proud of him. So these success stories–think about it, his children aren’t gonna be in foster care.
Rebecca: He made it. And it was because not just being taken out of a harmful situation, clearly, that was critical. But being put into the right situation with a foster family who met him where he was at, need wise, and challenged him to become something more.
Rebecca: So, there’s so much beauty out there, folks. Don’t be afraid of the dark side. Embrace the beauty of what we can do for these children and these families, and you will see a healthier community.
Lynette: Rebecca, you’ve been doing this for quite a while, and you really are Tera and I’s hero…
Tera: You are.
Lynette: …in the foster care movement. But, what gets you up every day and keeps you doing this for 20-something years that you’ve been doing this?
Rebecca: Well, my husband’s asked me that on several occasions. It’s like, are you crazy? No. For me it’s that moment when the right child and the right family click. And you go to bed that night knowing that no matter what that child has come from…
Rebecca: …tonight they are loved, they are secure. A friend of mine once said that sometimes the only times these children have even heard the name of Jesus Christ is as a curse word. When we can show a different aspect to this child—just as a quick example, we opened a marvelous foster home in Habersham County where they were bilingual, English, Spanish. Took too little boys into custody. Terrified, didn’t speak a word of English. We were able to place those two little boys in this home where above and beyond, all their needs are being met. More to the point, they’re being emotionally nourished, spiritually nourished, and they’re safe.
Rebecca: Just knowing that they’re safe, that’s what keeps me going. Keeping one kid safe at a time.
Lynette: And that’s why she gets up every morning and does what she does.
Tera: That’s right. That’s right.
Lynette: And that’s why she’s a hero in our eyes.
Rebecca: Well, thank you.
Lynette: So, Rebecca, thanks so much for joining us. We really pray that more people will step up to be foster parents. And more people will step up to do their part. And so, we’re grateful for your time, for your experience, and for your knowledge, and sharing it with us today.
Rebecca: Thank you so much.
Announcer: You have been listening to The Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board.
For more information about today’s podcast, and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.