Foster care valued in Belmont County
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Foster families continue to fill an important need in the area, and the Belmont County Commissioners recognized the program and two top foster parents in the county Wednesday, in honor of National Foster Parent Appreciation Month in May.
Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services Director Vince Gianangeli spoke about his office’s work and gave recognition to the department’s foster parents of the year, Matt and Susan Guthrie of St. Clairsville.
Gianangeli said Belmont County currently has 65 children in custody.
“That number is actually the largest number we’ve had in the last 15 years,” Gianangeli said. “Last year when I was here, I mentioned we had 34 kids in foster care, so we’re up 31 and it’s not hard to figure out why.”
He added that issues of substance abuse is a leading factor.
“In our case, it’s because of the drug issue that we have in Belmont County,” he said.
Gianangeli also thanked Belmont County Juvenile and Probate Judge Al Davies for operating the family dependence court. Gianangeli added that the doubled numbers since last year are largely made up of parents who are undergoing this court.
Davies also congratulated the Guthries, recognized as foster parents of the year.
Gianangeli said of the 65 children, 13 are in traditional foster care, such as the Guthries’ provide. A total of 23 are in therapeutic foster care, 26 are in a kinship program with a relative and three children are in other facilities, such as a detention center, hospital or group home.
Gianangeli noted that Belmont County has 35 licensed foster and adoption homes and nine new families have completed orientation, for a total of 44. He said said foster families such as the Guthries are highly valued.
“Matt and Susan have been foster parents since 2014. We’ve had seven placements with them. They’ve been very involved, not just with the children but also the parents. Susan engages very closely with birth moms, and we have (reunification) success stories because of what you two have done for Belmont County children,” he said. “Thank you for very much for what you do.”
Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann were all on hand to honor the program. Echemann asked the Guthries about their experiences.
Susan Guthrie said they have taken in the same child more than once on occasion, and they have fostered children as long as two months.
“It’s nice whenever you can see they can be reunited with their birth parents. That’s been the case with most of our placements,” Susan Guthrie said.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” Susan Guthrie said of the fostering process, adding that a successful reunification with a birth family is always welcome. “We’ve had really good experiences with all the birth parents we’ve been involved with. All the kids we’ve had placed with us, we’ve been able to have relationships with the birth parents. A common misconception is people think that the birth parents are bad people or don’t want their kids, but we haven’t found that to be the case at all. They usually are really good people who want to be with their kids and they love their kids. It’s been a blessing to help them be reunited.”
Gianangeli said his department is always looking for more potential foster parents, who evidence qualities including patience, kindness and love.
“When someone is thinking of becoming a foster parent, some people, with them it’s a lifelong commitment,” he said, adding that some of their foster families have participated for decades. He also said all of the foster families are licensed to adopt.
“What you do is beyond words. We’re very thankful,” he said.
“It’s a challenge, I’m sure, but I’m sure you have tremendous impact on the lives of the kids, and it sounds like the parents as well,” Meyer said. “It’s a tremendous undertaking. Something that has to be done.”
“There’s a lot of ways individuals can contribute to the community,” Dutton said. “You have chosen a way to really make a difference in our community.”