Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 1999
U.Va. to host public forum with alumni about the future of the Internet age
Former dean Raymond J. Nelson receives U.Va.'s Thomas Jefferson Award
U.Va.'s foster families fill the breach for children in need

Conference explores ways to internationalize universities

Winston, Weaver 'rapt' up Film Festival
Sigourney Weaver on motherhood and other roles
Sharing digital resources to help teachers use technology in class
Hot Links - President's Office
Film, panelists explore 'digital divide' in computer access
After Hours - arborist Jerry Brown
U.Va. well on its way to ringing in the Year 2000 without a systems glitch
Off the Shelf - recently published books
Digital prints on display Nov. 1-29
CEO of Pew Trusts to give talk Nov. 3

U.Va.'s foster families fill the breach for children in need

By Dan Heuchert

Linda Hunt admits she has a soft spot in her heart for life's less fortunate.

Hunt, the secretary for the Department of Religious Studies' graduate studies program, and her husband, Cliff, have eight dogs, two cats, a horse and a donkey.

In the last year, they have taken a giant step further and added three foster children.

"We have two extra bedrooms, we like kids, and we needed someone to play with my dogs," Linda said, half-jokingly. Half-jokingly, because the dogs are part of her approach to foster parenting.

"Animals will turn a kid around," said. "If you give a dog to a kid and tell him to take care of it, you give them a little bit of pride."

The Hunts are one of nine U.Va. families who take in foster children through Tri-Area Foster Families (TAFF), a placement agency that serves the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle and Greene counties.

There are as many styles of foster parenting as there are foster parents. Some people just want to help as many children as possible -- like Sheila White, a program coordinator for the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy, who has sheltered more than 25 children in her nine years as a foster parent. Others hope to find a route to adoption, like Nancy and Dan Haisenleder, who are in the midst of adopting the first and only children they were assigned since becoming foster parents a year ago.

What they all share is a deep concern for children. "People tell me, 'Don't spoil them, don't get attached to them,'" White said. "How can you not get attached? If I don't get attached, I'm not doing my job." There is a huge need for foster parents, said Martina Fuller, recruitment coordinator for TAFF. There are 105 foster families in her program. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, TAFF received 90 referrals from social service agencies and placed 50 children. More than 300 children are currently being cared for.

Some have terrible stories of abuse and neglect, rivaling those you may hear or read about in big cities. "It's happening right here, Fuller said. "People don't really see that."

Foster families receive stipends to cover room and board, and the state provides medical and dental coverage, as well as day care assistance for preschoolers.

In talking to foster parents, though, you get the sense that the money isn't the big pay-off.

"We knew that if we could make a difference in one child's life, it would be worth it,"said White, who is registered with four other counties in addition to TAFF.

White -- one of 13 children herself -- and her husband, Charles, raised three children of their own. They waited until their oldest was 19 before they entered the foster program, hoping to help fill what they found was a need for African-American foster families.

The children they have cared for have ranged in age from one day old to almost 18 years, and their stays have lasted from a few hours to 2 1/2 years for one sibling group. They are currently in the process of adopting one child who came to them when she was three months old.

"The most challenging thing I've faced is to let them know that they can trust us," Sheila said. "As young as 3, they don't trust anybody."

The rewards? "To see a child smile. To see a child appreciate a pair of socks. They say, 'Thank you, Ms. White.' My own kids would say, 'Is that all there is?'" Nancy Haisenleder, who supports financial computer systems for the Health Services Foundation, and her husband Dan, a researcher in Internal Medicine, have cared for an 8-year-old and a 2-year-old since last December. They saw foster parenting as an opportunity to adopt quickly.

It's becoming easier to adopt local children, Nancy said. "With changes in fostering laws, kids are not being allowed to linger forever or jump from home to home. It's freeing up a lot of kids for adoption."

The paperwork is daunting at times, though. Social Services has to sign off on things as simple as registering for preschool or day camps, Haisenleder said.

The emotional red tape can be jarring at times, too. "When you're up all night with a crying 2-year-old, you get very attached and feel like a real parent," she said. "Then the next morning you get a call that reminds you that you aren't."

For Linda Hunt, providing structure for the children is a key to success. It can mean something as simple as making sure a child asks permission before changing compact discs in the car stereo, or as difficult as convincing a child raised in a home without running water that she needs to take a shower three times a week, she said.

Generally, though, foster children aren't as much trouble as some may think. "They try to please," Hunt said. "That's the one thing about foster kids. They try to please."

White cautions that foster parenting is not for everybody. "I tell people to take the training and then decide," she said.

Thinking about becoming a foster parent?

  • Tri-Area Foster Families orientation session: Nov. 3, 6:30-9 p.m., Room 416, Charlottesville Department of Social Services, City Hall Annex, 120 Seventh Street NE.
  • Foster parent training sessions: Nov. 11, 6-9 p.m.; Nov.13, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Nov. 18, 6-9 p.m. Also held at the city Department of Social Services.

For information, contact Martina Fuller at 970-3329.



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