By Dawn Obarowski
lthough I spent 15 years living in Florida, my family was based in New York, more specifically, my brothers and sister and I were raised on Long Island. Basically, that makes us Northerners. I am not a G.R.I.T.S., not having been raised in the South, and when I relocated to Asheville, N.C., there were certain cultural differences that I needed to become acquainted with. The South has its own particular brand of graciousness, manners and hospitality. Along with that, there is an enormous compassion for our four-legged fur friends. Hardly a week goes by that there is not some event to benefit those non-profit rescue organizations that strive for a no-kill rescue environment. Rescue groups and volunteers are highly visible and dedicated to the point of religious zeal. This level of commitment to the underdog (no pun intended), is admirable to say the least and the support of the community to this ideology is enormous. As a person owned by multiple pets (it would be presumptuous to assume I own them), these devotees have my respect and support for the tender heart that drives their dedication.
As much as I love my fur companions of whom I have had a succession since childhood, more recently information came to me of a greater need for rescue—one which seems to have inspired far less enthusiasm and certainly many less willing volunteers. I speak about the enormous need for compassionate caregivers through the Foster Parent Program. Did you know that in North Carolina for the year 2013 there were 8,882 children in the custody of county departments of social services. These numbers have been growing at an alarming rate year after year. In order to provide a safe environment and temporary care for these children these agencies depend on the Foster Homes Volunteer Program which currently number 6,584 licensed homes as of August 30, 2013. Although these numbers may sound proportionately close to meeting the needs of displaced children—here are a few very disturbing statistics: The Gibbs study found that between 46% and 62% of foster parents quit fostering within one year of their first placement and that at least 20% of all foster homes left the system each year. So, if I am doing the math correctly (using a mean average) of those 6,584 licensed foster homes in 2013 we can expect that half those will leave the system in 12 months. Along with those 3,292 remaining homes, that number will be reduced by another 20% leaving 2,633 to meet the needs of over 9000 children. In the fiscal year of 2012-2013 North Carolina licensed 1,265 new foster homes, clearly not enough to meet the demand.
Children come in to the care and custody of the DSS Agency through various means. The process starts when a report is filed by a teacher, neighbor, school official, health care provider, family member or any concerned citizen. Sometimes reports come from children themselves. This report is reviewed and determined to be valid enough to be assigned a case worker. If the report is assigned a case worker, they will then make a visit to the home, speak with the adults in the home, interview the children, and make an assessment as to the needs of the family. If the assessment concludes that the children are in immediate danger and there is clear evidence of neglect, abuse and/or abandonment, then the children will be removed from the home and a petition is presented in family court to award temporary custody of the children to the DSS Agency. Now you have a child that is homeless, has been damaged by the adults that were entrusted with their care and well-being; confused and frightened by the events that have swept them away from everything they hold familiar. Now a physical location must be found for this child. And that’s where Foster homes play a crucial role.
What is a Foster Home? Any residence, whether it be owned or rented, private home or apartment that meets the North Carolina standard for safety and has the space to allow for a private bedroom. Each child must have a space of their own, except in the case of young siblings, who may share a bedroom provided each has their own separate bed and a dresser to store their personal items (which may be few at the time of placement). I do not believe there is a requirement for their own bathroom. These are not luxurious guidelines and I would be hard pressed to believe that most people could not meet this standard. Even the basics could seem like a palace compared to some of the conditions these children are removed from.
Who can be a Foster Parent? Any adult over the age of 21 who can pass a background check, can show a regular source of income, can pass a basic medical exam, has a means of transportation and above all else, has the desire to help heal a wounded spirit with love and compassion. You can be married, single, divorced, in a current relationship (living together but not married) and/or be in a same sex relationship. The minimum age is 21 but there is no maximum age requirement provided you can meet the physical needs of day-to-day care. These are pretty broad guidelines that throw the net out to a huge cross section of the population. So why do so few respond to the call to arms? What moves our compassion so greatly toward animal rescue, but leaves us cold about meeting the needs of children who find themselves in circumstance that they had no control over—Pint Size Victims, if you will. Perhaps it is bad PR, or actually very little PR. Let’s face it: who doesn’t cry when those commercials for ASPCA donations comes across our television screens and the toll-free number flashes letting you know to call now and give, give, give.
I plan to do a series of articles for this magazine about Foster Parenting and meeting the need for Compassionate Caregivers over the next few months. In my next article I would like to take the reader through a step-by-step look at the training programs offered by both DSS and private agencies to prepare homes for the fostering experience and perhaps demystify this process. I will relate my experience in the training programs and share what I learned and some of the people that I met while training. By the third article I hope to have had my first placement and be able to relate firsthand the day-to-day joys and challenges. In the final article I would like to introduce our readers to some wonderful North Carolina Women who have not only had many positive foster experiences to relate but have also had the joy of adopting through fostering. I hope you will follow this series and if you would like more information sooner please visit: www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/fostercare.
Dawn Grew up in the North, lived 15 years in Florida and relocated to North Carolina in 2008 to be with family and make new friends. 828-350-7510