DJFS holds annual dinner

Foster families take a ‘leap of faith

T-L Photos/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Denise Goodman, independent social worker, trainer and consultant, speaks Thursday during the foster parent appreciation dinner. She spoke about the joys, heartaches, challenges and importance of providing foster care.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County’s foster parents undertake difficult and often heartbreaking challenges that are largely unknown to the general public.

That’s why the Department of Job and Family Services and Children Services recognized them with the annual foster parent appreciation dinner Thursday.

The speaker was Denise Goodman, independent social worker, trainer and consultant, who has been working with the Belmont, Jefferson and Carroll county DJFS staff and foster care workers on new ideas for recruiting and retaining foster parents.

Children Services Director Christine Parker said Goodman has been working with her using a state grant. Parker said about 20 of Belmont County’s nearly 30 foster parents were able to enjoy the dinner.

Goodman related her own experiences as a foster parent, providing a safe harbor for children at times when they most needed one.

She said the job calls for a high caliber of foster parents. Goodman said foster parents must make a “leap of faith” to do all they can for children ranging from infants to teenagers.

“It makes a significant difference in impact on who and how they grow,” she said. “Not everybody can do what you do. … People don’t get what you do.”

Goodman said some can be discouraged from stepping up as foster parents when it seems only negative news about foster children is reported. She noted that in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, 1,000 foster parents lost their homes.

“Foster parents picked up these kids and evacuated to keep them safe,” she said. “Foster parents were wonderful. … We went out and recruited 432 new foster homes in the wake of Katrina. Those are people who are taking a chance, who are taking a leap of faith.”

Goodman said foster parents often find new reserves of strength and the ability to undertake challenges they would not have believed themselves capable of, such as working with children with severe illnesses.

“We have people who never believed they would be capable of caring for kids with certain kinds of needs. Did you surprise yourself yet? How many of you have surprised yourself?” she said. “Our greatest challenge becomes our greatest accomplishment.”

Goodman also encouraged foster parents to take in teenage foster children.

“Sometimes you take that leap of faith when you say ‘yes’ to a teen, when you only want to have up to six. It’s a leap of faith to take those teens,” she said. “None of you were picnics as a teenager.”

She related the experience of seeing foster children grow into healthy adults.

“Sometimes you don’t know where your leap of faith may take you,” she said. “My leap of faith is I’m going to be all-in for as long as this young person needs me. … What I find from foster parents is they can see the good, the potential in the future for every kid.”

Goodman spoke about challenges in connecting with older foster children who are unwilling or reluctant to show affection and trust due to abusive experiences.

She also spoke about the importance of countering the stigma still associated with foster children, such as when an educator doubts their abilities or expects less from them.

Goodman said she is a strong proponent of stability and keeping siblings together. She said disturbances such as frequently changing schools can stall a foster child’s learning.

Goodman said foster parents have a duty to advocate for their children and to be the “squeaky wheel.”

“You have to be the foster parent that sometimes drives the social workers crazy,” she said. “They say children should be seen and not heard. You’re their voice.”

She also spoke about the task of reuniting foster children with their birth families.

Goodman said foster parents must also take a “leap of hope” when they are feeling overwhelmed.

“The children and teens of this county need people to step up,” she said. “These aren’t strangers. These are children who go to school with your children. … The families of Belmont County say: ‘If you need me, I am here.'”

Several foster parents in the audience smiled and nodded as Goodman spoke.

Afterward, foster parents Chris and Kayla Tice of Shadyside said since becoming foster parents almost four years ago they have adopted two foster children.

“We knew there were a lot of kids out there that needed our help, so we decided this was an alternate route (to building a family),” Kayla said.

They encourage anyone interested in being foster parents.

“I don’t think there’s ever a bad time, but at the same time if you’re waiting for the good time you’re never going to get it. You just have to make the jump.”

They were impressed by Goodman’s talk.

“She made a pretty good point about where would these children be without us? I think about that often. Where would our son, our daughter, where would they be if we had not stepped up?” Kayla said. “I think stepping up like that led us to having our family, and we would never, ever go back.”

Belmont County Juvenile and Probate Judge Al Davies credited the Children Services staff and foster parents for their work and dedication.

“Foster parents are some of the strongest, loving, caring people that step up when there’s an incredible need with these children that are born in difficult circumstances and tough situations, and it’s wonderful to know that there are good people like that.”

For more information, DJFS Children Services can be reached at 740-695-1075 or by visiting belmontcdjfs.com.


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