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Foster families sought

DHR: ‘We’ve got 13, but we’d love to have 30’

Story by Tori Bedsole

Escambia County is in need of foster families, and the local Department of Human Resources (DHR) is prepared to train those interested.

The Escambia County Department of Human Resources (DHR) currently has 49 children in its care, 27 of which have been placed in residential facilities, therapeutic foster homes or group homes in other counties.

There has been a spike in the number of children entering foster care in the last few years, according to Tracie James-Mauldin, an Escambia County social worker.

“We have 13 families who are approved to be foster parents in Escambia County,” Mauldin, said. “We would love to have 30 families. The more families we have, the less we have to overwhelm our current families.”

Mauldin said Escambia County had 30 families in 2000, but that number has declined over the years.

“A lot of the families have adopted and no longer have space to foster, which is great for the children but not so good for us,” Mauldin said. “Others have moved out of the county for differing reasons.”

An increase in the number of foster families in the county would also help the department keep siblings together.

“If we have to split up siblings, they get to visit with one another, but the further away they are, the harder that makes it,” Mauldin said. “They don’t get to visit as often, say, if they are in different counties.”

In order to become foster parents, families must go through background and medical clearances, CPR and water safety training, and meet minimum standards for their home.

The local DHR is planning to begin a 10-week foster parent course in mid-September. The free training is three hours a night once a week for 10 consecutive weeks.

“The training gives them the information to make an informed decision about whether they can handle it,” Mauldin said. “It’s not for everyone.”

Not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent but Mauldin said there are other opportunities to get involved in helping the foster children. According to Mauldin, DHR always needs people to provide emergency and respite care for foster parents, along volunteers to drive to visits.

DHR could also use donations of items such as:

• Diapers,

• Clothing,

• School supplies,

• Formula,

• Baby wipes, and

• Gift cards to fast food restaurants.

If interested in becoming a foster parent or volunteering, contact Tracie James-Mauldin at 251-809-2038 or Erica Thompson at 251-809-2031.

Jena Turner, an advocate for The Forgotten Initiative in Escambia County and foster parent, said fostering is hard but it is also the most rewarding thing she has ever done.

Turner has two biological children, two adopted children and one foster child.

“I was reserved about fostering at first because I was worried about bringing children into my home with my biological children,” Turner said. “It was very scary but my husband and I have always had a heart for it.”

Turner and her husband looked to adopt through private adoption agencies before turning to foster care.

“Every door closed in those agencies, which ended up being a blessing,” she said. “When you foster, you get to see growth in these children. You see the hurt; you see the baggage; you see the issues. But, you love them through it.”

Turner said the process of fostering and adopting has shaped her biological children by opening their eyes to what other children go through.

“They have learned to give and to share their parents,” Turner said. “It really is amazing to see the difference it has made in my family. It truly is a growing experience that is so rewarding.”

The Forgotten Initiative is a nonprofit organization that “fills the gaps” of fostering in communities.

“There is a massive chasm between people in the community and the issues surrounding foster care,” Turner said. “We are here to be a resource for the community.

“It is so much more than taking in children. There are teenagers aging out of the system who have no mentors, no way to know how to be citizens.”

Turner said The Forgotten Initiative strives to provide anything from meals to fun days for the children or nights off for the foster parents, along with performing service projects to educate the community.