Mother’s Day is “kind of bittersweet” for foster moms, according to Christy Duncan, county coordinator and foster family support and communications coordinator for The CALL in White County.
“They understand it is a quote-unquote privilege to be a mom to these kids while they are with them, but our moms feel bad, I guess you could say, for the biological moms who aren’t getting to spend this day with their kids,” Duncan said. “A lot of them realize what a privilege it is, but how humbling it can be, too.
“One or two of our moms had for the foster child bought a card and gift for the child to give to the biological mom when they had their visits with their mom around Mother’s Day. That says a lot about our foster moms remembering the biological moms during this time and just because their child is not with them doesn’t mean they aren’t a mom at this time. They really have done some special things for them.”
There are 55 foster families in White County, 16 of them through The CALL. an organization whose main purpose is to “recruit, train and support families here in White County,” Duncan said. “It is a statewide organization with 52 of the counties in the state having a CALL branch, I guess you can say.”
The CALL in White County is working from a donated house by Union Valley Baptist Church in Searcy. The church donated its parsonage to them.
With Mother’s Day on Sunday coinciding with National Foster Care Month, Duncan spoke to The Daily Citizen about those who choose to be foster moms.
She said most of the foster moms in White County have biological children but not all of them do.
“We have a couple of families who don’t have any biological kids,” Duncan said. “We have a single mom who doesn’t have any biological kids. The single mom for the past three years, I believe it has been, she has had placement in her home and her church has just treated her real well with what they have done for her, because they do consider her a mom.”
Intervals vary on how long a family will have a foster child, according to Duncan. “We have some that are short-term placements that the child may only be there for a weekend or week or two and then we have placements that have gone on six months to a year. For that six months to a year, they are ‘mom’ to them for a while.”
Asked about the age ranges of foster children, Duncan said anywhere zero until their 22nd birthday. “On their 22nd birthday, they have officially aged out.”
“The time from 18 to 21 is what they call extend foster care so as long as the child goes to school or maybe has a job,” she said. “When you look at that time frame right there, then that’s where they have somebody there just supporting them and kind of teaching them the ropes of adulthood. Most kids do actually age out and decide to leave on their 18th birthday.”
Duncan said last year in Arkansas there were 228 youths who aged out.
“A lot of those times when they age out like that they don’t have any place to go. so it is kind of a sad story for a lot of them,” she said.
One of the biggest needs for foster parents is for teenagers.
“In White County, our greatest number of kids in foster care are the 13 to 18 age group,” Duncan said. “A lot of time when you look at parents and everything, the stories why children are pulled from their homes are the same no matter what the ages are. Actually ,the number of teens in foster care are high, but so are the numbers from zero to 5; they are almost equal.
“A lot of families don’t want to foster those teens because teenagers kind of have a bad stigma around them, but you know the teens need that love and support and parenting just like the younger ones do.”
Concerning limits on how many fosters children a foster family may host, Duncan said “that is based on the size of the bedroom that they have. So, if a bedroom is a 10-by-10 space, they can fit two foster kids in there, so a lot of it depends on the room the house has for them. The majority of foster families have more than one foster child, but there are some that are only open for one, possibly two kids.”
Several foster families have redone things in their home to make room for more foster kids because of how many are in care, Duncan shared.
The Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services handles where the children are picked up by the foster families and The CALL is the support source. “We have the house there in Beebe and DCFS will use it at times for visits for the families. We have an area set up for family visits to be done there.”
For those in White County who may be interested in fostering, Duncan said The CALL has meetings at different churches throughout White County. An information meeting at Valley Baptist Church in Searcy will be held May 17 at 6:30 p.m. “This is a meeting between us and DHS [Department of Human Services],” Duncan said. “People can find out the roads to take to foster, adopt or even volunteer with The CALL.”
She said the requirements families have to meet “are more DCFS requirements than they are ours, but basically you have to pass a background check, which is the biggest requirement, for the child abuse and neglect background check,” she said. “They like for you to be able to financially support. The families do get a monthly stipend, but they like for you to be able to support without that stipend if possible.”
Once all of the initial background checks are passed, DCFS comes out to do an in-home consultation and if anything needs to be repaired or fixed, at that point it will say that “these things need to be taken care of, “ Duncan said.
“After they do that first initial at-home contact, then all the parents have to go through PRIDE [Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education] training, which is a federal requirement, it is not just a state requirement; and we do those for our families,” she said. “And after that they have a very intensive home study done and once that is done, based on results of it, DHS goes out and does one final walk-through of the home, and at that point, the home can be opened.”
COVID-19 changed the way The CALL had to do some of those things last year, Duncan said.
“We were not able to provide a lot of the in-person services that we are used to, like our information meetings were done through Zoom,” she said. “Our PRIDE trainings were done through Zoom and usually we do family outings for everybody. We will do a parents night out and we weren’t able to do that from March up until almost March of this year, but we are getting back into what we love to do and that is to take care of the families and plan things for them.
“We are back to meeting in person for our information meeting. We just finished up an in-person PRIDE training so we are definitely getting back to our normal services.”
The foster families in White County provide “a huge support system” for one another, Duncan said.
“That is one thing you can say that our veteran parents are wonderful about supporting our newer families and it just amazes me how much they do and the tight-knit community they have with one another,” she said. “That is the one things that was affected this past year, we haven’t been able to do that and we have had quite a few new families that have opened up in the past years and some of our old families say they haven’t ever met the new families yet, so that is one thing we are excited about, planning some events where our families get to know each other again.”
The White County community can help The CALL with monetary donations, Duncan said.
“We can take donations of clothing, diapers and gift cards for different things whether it’s haircuts for the kids or a meal out, just any type of donations really,” she said.
The CALL at White County is the Facebook page that residents can go to to learn more about the organization and how they can help. The CALL also can be contacted by email at whitecounty @thecallinarkansas.org or called at (501) 593-0330.
Duncan said she and her husband ran a group home for about a year and a half in Searcy and that was her introduction into the foster care system/foster care community.
She said there is a saying that goes “no matter how hard this is, how hard being a foster parent is, it is not any scarier or harder than what these kids have been through.”
“Our foster parents just amaze me every day with what they do for these kids and how they take care of them and love them,” Duncan said, “and even the ones that are the hardest behavioral problems or attitude problems or whatever the kids can give, the way that our foster families step up for these kids is simply amazing. They are heroes to me.”