Foster parents are heroes.
They open their homes to children and youth in desperate situations, love them, nurture them and grow attached to them. Then the day comes. These heroes say goodbye to the children that they cared for during the crisis that might have lasted one day, one month, one year...or even more.
Foster parents don't always know how safe or loving the home will be when the child returns. Biological parents are required to meet certain standards before this reunion happens. When the parents aren't able to meet the standards or they simply refuse to, these children will end up in the foster-to-adopt scenario that opens them up to a lot of uncertainty, mixed with the hope of a new, stable family.
I've met several foster parents over the past couple of months of working on The New Family Tree. They love the children that they know are not their own.
One of these special foster moms is a woman named Carolyn Dunning. She raised her three biological sons, but knew she still had more love to give.
Carolyn worked with special needs children and youth for nearly 20 years. When she heard about Louisiana Mentor, she knew she found her calling: fostering the most fragile children and teens. "They have a lot of needs that some people might look over," she said, "and you can help these children if you just give them the time and just working with them to see what they are able to do."
Louisiana Mentor has been around since 2005, offering training for foster parents to care for children and youth with emotional, behavioral and medical challenges. This empowerment sets the foster child up for success and stability in a caring home. "I completed 36 hours of training," said Carolyn. "I learned how to work with them on their behaviors. You learn about their medications, how to give them their medications."
There are a couple of different programs offered through Louisiana Mentor: therapeutic foster care and medically fragile foster homes. This program fills the gap with the Department of Children & Family Services, Office of Juvenile Justice and Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities.
Foster parents are compensated with a standard foster board payment, as well as a monthly stipend that varies depending on the child's or youth's needs.
Carolyn was placed with two girls, ages 10 and 12 a year and a half ago.
The neglect was so extreme with the younger girl that Carolyn had to start with the basics. "She didn't know how to tie her shoes, she couldn't open up the door, she couldn't bathe, she couldn't put her clothes on. It was just a lot of things that were lacking with her."
But through love, stability and consistency, both girls are now thriving.
Mentors may be married or single, men or women - they just need to have the compassion for a person in need and the commitment to make a positive difference. "Somebody helped us, so we're just turning it right back and helping another child," said Carolyn.
BJ Gallent is a recruiter with Louisiana Mentor and she says there is a big need for more adults to open their homes to these foster kids. It's about never giving up on a child, no matter how big their needs may seem.
If you want to learn more about Louisiana Mentor or Mentor programs in other states, click here.
To talk to BJ about becoming a mentor, call her at 318-451-7556.