foster families fill the breach for children in need
Hunt admits she has a soft spot in her heart for life's less fortunate.
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.
the last year, they have taken a giant step further and added
three foster children.
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."
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.
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.
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,² Fuller said. "People don't really see that."
families receive stipends to cover room and board, and the state
provides medical and dental coverage, as well as day care assistance
talking to foster parents, though, you get the sense that the
money isn't the big pay-off.
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.
-- 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.
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
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
rewards? "To see a child smile. Š To see a child appreciate
a pair of socks. They say, 'Thank you, Ms. White.' My own kids
would say, 'ŒIs 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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
information, contact Martina Fuller at 970-3329.