Donny and Cathy have been Gregg County foster parents for more than 14 years, bringing close to 40 children into their home. "When I come home from work my day's not finished. Sometimes, it's just getting started," says Donny. What this couple is doing is rare. They're one of only five foster homes in Gregg County licensed through the state to care for children removed from their homes by Child Protective Services.
"I think we could actually use 40 or 50 families here in Gregg County. The good thing about that is we may not fill up every home all the time, but you know it's good for foster parents to get a rest occasionally and the foster families we have now have not had a rest in years," says Judge Robin Sage, 307th Family District Court in Gregg County.
The first step in becoming a foster parent is attending a 10-week parenting certification class called PRIDE, an acronym for Parents Resource for Information-Development Education. "We go through every aspect of what someone can predictably encounter becoming a foster parent. There's no better way to determine if fostering is for you than to come to one of the classes," says Greg Eubanks, PRIDE instructor.
"I'm sure learning a lot of things I haven't even thought about having to deal with like all the broken homes and the children's reaction. Even though I've dealt with children all these years it's totally different," says Helen Smith. For Helen and her husband Melvin, of Gregg County, the decision to take this first step was simple. She says, "We just love children so we wanted to come see if we could help." Melvin adds, "There's a need out there and I think we all need to step forward and follow God's direction to help the needy."
The class covers such areas as: Where do foster children come from? What type of problems might they bring? And, how to you deal with emotional and behavioral issues? Greg says, "We're going to depend on you to learn from this training and then tell us what type of child and how many children you can best parent."
Another potential foster parent, Kathy Pickard, says, "I've always had the desire to be a mother. So, when you go through the PRIDE class and you realize that these children really need something you can give, it does affect you." Kathy and her husband Tony, of Gregg County, are unable to have children of their own, but their desire to help children is leading them to become foster parents. Tony says, "You can just see God's hand moving us and putting us in the right place at the right time. It's something that's needed. It's something the community needs and I think it's something we're just lead to do it."
"Everybody is put on the earth to do something. God has a special place for us all," says Teresa Daniels of Gregg County. Teresa is the single mother of two grown boys. Now, she wants to be a foster parent. "Just because you're single doesn't mean you can't provide the kids with the same love and understanding that a married couple can. I'm going to welcome them with open arms and just show them there is another life and they can be loved."
Each of these Gregg County families brings something different to the table, but the one thing they all have is a compassionate heart for children. Donny says, "You'd be surprised what you can do when you put your mind to it." Although this Gregg County foster family gets tired, they say as long as there are children in need, they will continue opening their home to them. They hope others in the area will follow, helping children who can't help themselves. Donny says, "With a whole lot of praying and God's help, you can make a difference in a kids life."
In addition to the parent certification class, the next step is a home study to be filed with the courts. It involves a CPS caseworker conducting thorough interviews and inspections of the potential foster parents' home. Other training required includes CPR and first aid. Also, a criminal background check is done.
This process to become a foster parent costs nothing, but it does require some patience. If everything goes smoothly, it will take about 3 months for you to become a foster parent. Now, just because you take the class, does not mean you're obligated to be a foster parent.
If you'd like more information on the Fostering Partners Project in Gregg County, call our Gift of Love hotline at 1-888-kids-275.