Joy & Grace: A Foster Parent Reflection

We have the best foster parents! These families sacrifice so much to give children who have been removed from their families due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment a safe, loving, healing environment. Below, a soon-to-be adoptive mom shares her story about her family’s decision to foster, and then adopt. She beautifully expresses her love for these children, their birth family, and hope for all of their futures. 

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My husband and I knew we were called to become foster parents in 2013 after attending a foster home benefit and hearing the testimony of several teenagers. We both said ‘yes’ in our hearts that day, but only under certain conditions. Our plan was to wait until our two biological children were grown and then open our home to older children like the teenagers we heard speak that night. We were very comfortable with that decision and talked about it often as our future plan. A few years later, however, our good friends (the youth pastors at our church) became foster parents. They allowed us to join them in their journey, and we began to provide respite care for them. We loved being a part of this and each time the children were with us, it filled our home with joy!  

Before long, our teenagers started asking us to foster while they were still at home. We still felt our plan was best, and we should wait. We even used the other ministries we were involved in as excuses.  After two years of refusing to even pray about it, we began to seek the Lord and consider His timing might be different than ours. We reluctantly signed up for the classes, and after our first training course, we realized God had a better plan than we did. We finished the training and began to pray for both our future foster child/children and their birth families. Honestly though, much of our praying was focused on our own family. We knew we could love foster children, but wanted to prepare our hearts to love the birth families as well. Our goal needed to be focused on reconciling the children to their own parents, and that would be our biggest challenge. We waited and prayed for four months.

Then on March 20, 2017, we got the call‒a 10-month-old and 8-year-old boys. They arrived at our home at 9 p.m., both scared and shaken to the core. The truth that God’s timing is perfect was evident that night. It was, in fact, our biological teenagers who first became the hands and feet of Jesus to these precious, traumatized boys. Honestly, the first few months of their stay seemed like a blur as our family went into survival mode. And the first time we took the boys to visit their birth family, the 8-year-old kept asking if they could come back home to stay with us. Shocked to hear this request, we kept assuring him and fighting back our own tears.  

In the months that followed, we formed a wonderful relationship with the birth family, and they were working hard to meet expected requirements. We were loving the boys as if they would never leave and telling ourselves every night that they WOULD leave. We were trying desperately to guard our hearts assuming their stay with us was temporary. During this time, we often had to declare that “all is well” and lean on others for strength and borrowed faith.

Our journey with the boys has had many ups and downs. More than once we thought they would be returning to their birth family. But repetitive bad choices by their biological family have kept them in foster care in our home. And as proof that God had a better plan than we did, we are thrilled that their adoption should be final this summer! Our boys will be our forever family and their birth family will remain a part of their story as well. God showed us that He brought ALL of them into our lives. We realize this seems strange to some people, and it certainly isn’t what we planned. But after many answered prayers, we feel honored that God is calling us to do something so challenging and want to make sure He receives all the glory! We are trusting Him daily for wisdom and strength to continue this process.

This is “our story.” We are thankful for the faith and courage of our two teenagers who wanted us to foster while they were still in our home. We are also thankful for the help and endless encouragement from our family, church family, friends, and Chambliss Center for Children. 

We hope our story encourages others to be a part of foster care and adoption in some way. Because even on the worst days, we can honestly say our boys always bring joy‒not always happiness‒but always joy! If we could describe foster care in one word it would be GRACE. Be ready to give grace abundantly; be ready to ask for grace humbly; and be ready to receive grace daily.

            By Stephanie Y., Chambliss Center for Children Foster/Adoptive Parent 

We are constantly needing new families to take the leap into fostering. If you would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent, please call 423-693-2580 or email fostercare@chamblisscenter.org.

To Reunification & Beyond

When a child enters into foster care, our number one goal, if possible, is reunification with the biological family. While that isn’t always the case and adoption or kinship care becomes the next steps, a successful reunification is something that we strive for. In some cases, the reunification with the biological family continues to include the foster parents that have come to love those children. 

One of our foster families encountered just that with a recent placement. Below, Heather reflects on her relationship with her foster children’s biological mom, both before and after reunification. 

“TO REUNIFICATION AND BEYOND”

One of the hardest things about being a foster parent is saying good- bye to the children we have shared our home and our love with.  While reunification should always be our ultimate goal, when possible, our hearts break at the thought of these children no longer being in our lives.  Sometimes, however, if you are lucky, you have built a relationship with the biological parent(s) that allows continued contact.  We have been blessed to have this relationship with our most recent placement.

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In August 2017, we welcomed a 9-month-old boy, Tomas, and his 7-year-old sister, Ugenia, into our home.  The mother is from Guatemala and the children were placed with us, primarily because we are a bilingual family.  There was initial animosity from mom, because people told her that we planned to adopt her children. However, once I made it clear that this is only a step that is taken when parents don’t show interest in working their plan or recovering their children, things went more smoothly.  

The children returned to her care in May 2018.  Since that time, we have been able to spend time with them as a family and also one on one with the children.  We took Ugenia to VBS, had birthday celebrations with them, have assisted with follow up medical appointments for a health condition that required Tomas to have surgery while in our care, helped mom shop for WIC and served as emergency babysitters.  Once, when we were shopping, Tomas kept saying “mommy, mommy” and, even though she would answer him he continued until she said “oh, the other mommy” and laughed. It felt good to know she was ok with him calling me mommy.  

My greatest gift came yesterday, though, when the mom sent me a text to wish me happy Valentine’s Day (known as the day of love and friendship in Latin America) and thanked me for our unconditional love for them and told me they love us as well.            

Written by Heather C.

We would like to thank Heather for sharing her experiences with us! If you are interested in fostering, please contact us at 423-693-2580 or email fostercare@chamblisscenter.org.

National Foster Care Month & Foster Care Information Session

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May is National Foster Care Month. With an estimated 1,000 children in the Tennessee Valley in state care at any given time, there is a critical need for quality, loving foster homes in this area. Chambliss Center for Children will host a free Foster Care Information Session on Tuesday, June 4th for those with an interest in fostering. This Foster Care Information Session is an opportunity to learn more about our PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) training, the State of Tennessee's required training for foster parents. You'll have a chance to get general information about fostering and ask questions. There's no commitment to sign up for classes that evening, however, if you want to begin the classes, you can immediately enroll in our accelerated program for the summer. Classes will begin June 6th and continue every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of June. If you need time to consider, we will have another round of PATH classes starting in September, which will meet once a week on Thursdays.

Kindly RSVP to 423-693-2580 by Friday, May 31st, so accurate preparations may be made. Child care is also available, but must be scheduled by Friday, May 31st, as well.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Ending Generational Hurt…. Now!

Written by Case Manager, Antole T.

During the month of April and throughout the year, communities are encouraged to increase awareness and provide education and support to families through resources and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect take a long-term physical and emotional toll on individual children, their families, and the communities in which they live. It costs more than $128 billion each year. In 2018, there were more than 700,000 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in the United States.

Hundreds, even thousands, of American children’s lives can be saved each year by protecting those at highest risk for death due to abuse and neglect. By many measures, our communities suffer from the exponential growth of traumatized children impacting our schools, public health, and public safety. The economic impact of generational child abuse and the ever-increasing numbers of mothers without parenting skills, children with serious mental health problems, and inadequate coping skills is making America poorer and more dangerous. 

Chambliss Center for Children, along with other local organizations, are continuing the prevention work by informing, teaching, and training the families within our community. 

The video linked below shares how Chambliss Center for Children is an ongoing gateway to ending the fight against child abuse by providing keys resources that help install safe relationships for our children and foster families within our community. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfHOJe-KVmk

For additional resources and trainings, visit our website, www.chamblisscenter.org, and www.cachc.org.

Life as a Foster Parent: Sharon Collins

One of our Case Managers, Melissa Hand, recently sat down with one of our foster parents and interviewed her about her experience with fostering. Read below for her story.

Sharon Collins, Chambliss Center for Children Foster Parent

Sharon Collins, Chambliss Center for Children Foster Parent

I recently interviewed an expert panel for a foster parent class. One of my panel members was our foster parent, Sharon Collins, who has been fostering for 18 years. I later spoke with her to gather more information. Here are some of her insights:

Melissa: How did you get into fostering? 

Sharon: My niece, that I raised as my own since third grade, encouraged me to foster when she and my daughter both moved out. She did not want me to be lonely. I started with teenage girls, but after some time, I decided to take boys instead.  I have fostered over 50 children in 18 years.

Melissa: What are some of the most important things you have learned? 

Sharon: Have a backup plan for help, especially as a single foster parent – my significant other helps with picking up kids and serves as a mentor and a father figure.  I also expect kids to be kids… my house is “lived in”. Also, don’t take things the child does personally, they are acting on what they’ve learned from their family, or because they are upset about their situation.

Melissa: What are some tips for working with birth parents?

Sharon: I have to earn their trust and build relationship with both the children and their parents. Birth parents will be watching everything you say and do. Just be yourself and encourage them. I give the parents my number (*optional*), and allow them to call me about their children. I brag to them about their children and remind them that I am not trying to take their child from them, just to love them and keep them until they can work it out to get them home. I encourage them to do what they need to do to get their kids back, and let them know they can always call me to get advice, encouragement, and sometimes, assistance. 

Melissa: How can you help a child acclimate to your home, considering their trauma history?

Sharon: I help them ease into my home by watching TV or playing family games together, especially if I have another foster child in the home. That helps.  If they want, I take them to a restaurant that is similar to their culture or one that they love. If they are really nervous, I joke with them to break the ice.  I asked one teenager if he was scared and he said “yes”, so I asked him if he bites… He looked at me funny and said “No” … then I said, “Neither do I, So, we’ll be alright!” This made him laugh and it really helped. You have to keep a sense of humor!

 

I’d like to thank Sharon for sharing her experiences with us! If you are interested in fostering, please contact Chambliss at 423-693-2580, or email fostercare@chamblisscenter.org.

 

I look forward to working with you!   ~Melissa Hand, Case Manager

Instant Family Movie Review

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In November, the movie, Instant Family, was released in theaters, and viewers got a look at what it’s like to become foster parents. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, the two parents decided to foster a sibling group of three children, and the movie shows a glimpse of the process of becoming foster parents, receiving a placement, and all of the joy and trials that come with fostering.

After our Residential Staff went to go see the movie, we asked some of our case managers about how the movie compared to real life fostering and adoption.

I believe the movie Instant Family did a great job at portraying the truly difficult parts of fostering, as well as the rewards. I often teach foster parents to never expect the foster children in your home to be “grateful” to be there. The family in this movie learned this as well. Children in foster care need unconditional love and support, because they will most certainly test those conditions at times. The movie also lets you see things from the children’s perspectives, which can be very helpful in keeping us adults in check - to remember why we do this work as case managers and foster parents in the first place. The family in this movie works through cultural differences, heartaches and absolute frustration.  But it is also evident how worthwhile it is to stick it out and see the lives of children (and their foster parents) forever changed. I think any potential foster parent would benefit from watching Instant Family.  –Melissa, Case Manager

Overall, I give this film 4 out of 5 stars. I loved it. It was a great representation of fostering children from the foster parent perspective and the roller coaster of emotions that come with the court process, building a relationship with the children, and the reunification process. The only thing I wish was addressed was better services offered for the children when transitioning and dealing with a new potential adoptive home. However, I also understand services may not be offered in all settings, as this film was based on a true story. The film depicts a couple seeking to adopt a child through foster care, and they end up with 3 children and the struggles and challenges that come with it, including language barriers, cultural differences, and understanding the love needed. Ultimately the movie continues to remind viewers that structure and love are very important through this process, along with support and commitment.  –Veronique, Case Manager

If you’ve ever considered fostering, please contact Chambliss Center for Children at 423-693-2580 or email fostercare@chamblisscenter.org. The agency will be offering PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) training, the required training to foster in the State of Tennessee, each quarter.

Transitional Living

Chambliss Center for Children began its Transitional Living Program just over a year ago. The program is designed to assist youth “aging out” of the foster care system. We started by purchasing one duplex and then building two new duplexes. As we wrap up this first year, we are finalizing the renovation of two additional duplexes and an apartment, giving us the ability to serve 11 young adults.  Programs like this help youth who have been in foster care transition into adulthood, providing them support in this critical stage of life. All participants in our program must be in school and must have a part-time job. We are here to encourage them, challenge them, and help them navigate life as an adult. Please watch the following video to hear from one of the young ladies in our program. If you would like to learn more, please visit www.chamblisscenter.org/transitional-living.

National Foster Care Month & Foster Care Info Night

 

May is National Foster Care Month. With an estimated 1,000 children in the Tennessee Valley in state care at any given time, there is a critical need for quality, loving foster homes in this area. Chambliss Center for Children will host a free Foster Care Info Night on Tuesday, June 5th for those with an interest in fostering. The event will feature a short film on a child’s experience in foster care and the value of a loving, safe foster home. There will be an opportunity to learn more about Chambliss Center for Children, the foster care system, requirements for fostering, and to hear from current foster parents. This is a no-pressure event. The goal is to provide information and answer questions.

Kindly RSVP to 423-693-2580 by Friday, June 1st, so accurate preparations for refreshments may be made. Child care is also available, but must be scheduled by Friday, June 1st, as well.

 

 

Involving Your Biological Children in the Fostering Process

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In 2015, Chris and Rachael, two full-time working parents with three biological children, decided it was time to add a little more adventure to their lives by becoming foster parents. Prior to embarking on the fostering journey, Chris and Rachael talked in-depth about the possibility with all of their biological children.

“While Chris and I felt led to begin learning about foster care, we knew that making this commitment to get involved would impact all five of us. It was important to us that each of our children were on-board and understood what this journey could mean for us. We actually brought our children with us to our first informational meeting at Chambliss so they could ask their own questions as well.” explains Rachael.

In 2016, this family of five became a family of seven – two different times! The first to share their home and receive their love were two sisters. They were only with the family for a few weeks before being returned to their birth mother. Their second placement, two brothers, came just before Christmas in 2016. These precious boys were with the family for several months before being reunited with their older two brothers and returned to their parents.   

“Saying goodbye isn’t easy on any of us. No matter if they are in our home for a few weeks or many months, they become part of our family. I just have to be the best brother I can while they are in our home,” says Eli, Rachael and Chris' 15-year-old son.

Many adults enter the world of fostering worrying about the time when foster children will leave their care, unsure of how they will be able to handle it emotionally. When that time comes, it will also have an impact on the biological children in the family. That is why having conversations with your biological children before beginning the fostering process is so important. Entering this life-changing process affects the entire family, and laying out all feelings and concerns ahead of time can help when trying to navigate the daily joys and challenges that come with fostering.

Below are a couple of links to stories from biological children about their fostering experiences.

https://www.agapeforchildren.org/client-stories-effects-fostering-biological-children/

http://fosteringperspectives.org/fp_v11n1/birthkid.htm

The Department of Children’s Services is also now offering a training session called Impact of Fostering on Biological Children. If you are interested in learning more about this training, please contact Jennifer Davis at jldavis@chamblisscenter.org.

 

From No Children to a Full House

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Justin and Christin Ownby have been married for 7 years. Through Justin’s work as a Youth Pastor, he and Christin have spent years working with children. They both had a desire to foster, even before thinking of having children of their own. They each have family members who have been touched by adoption in some way.

A little over three years ago, shortly after they were approved to foster, they received a call from Chambliss Center for Children about a sibling group of three. Without hesitation, they said yes. A few months later, they added the sibling group’s newborn baby brother, and became a family of six!

As we enter the holiday season, please keep in mind all the children who need stable, loving homes. If you’ve ever considered fostering, please contact Chambliss Center for Children at 423-693-2580 or email fostercare@chamblisscenter.org. The agency will be offering PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) training, the required training to foster in the State of Tennessee, from January 11 through February 22nd. Visit https://www.chamblisscenter.org/events/2018/1/11/path-training for more information on the training sessions.

November is National Adoption Month

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In Hamilton and the surrounding counties, there are more than 1,000 children in state custody at any given time. These children have been removed from their homes because of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or they have come through the juvenile court system. Chambliss Center for Children contracts with the state to find loving, stable foster homes for these youth. Finding a permanent home for these children is the ultimate goal, whether with their biological parents - if the parents can complete the steps needed to regain custody of their children - or with other family members. However, approximately 20% of these youth end up becoming available for adoption.

November is National Adoption Month, specifically adoption through foster care. In an effort to provide the community more information on the fostering process, Chambliss Center for Children will host a free Foster Care Info Night on Tuesday, November 14th from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

The event will be held at Chambliss Center for Children, located at 315 Gillespie Road. Attendees will view a short film about a child’s experience in foster care and the value of a loving, safe foster home. There will be an opportunity to learn more about Chambliss Center for Children, the foster care system, requirements for fostering and adoption, and to hear from current foster parents.