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Foster families meet with Rep. Hudson

ROCKINGHAM — Individuals involved in the realm of foster care met with U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-Concord, for a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the Richmond County Department of Social Services.

The panel consisted of social workers, foster parents and current and former foster children.

“We’re blessed to have foster parents willing to take kids of all ages,” said Bunny Critcher, program manager for Richmond County Children’s Services. “We can’t do our job without our foster parents.”

In expressing the need for more parents to take up the difficult task, Critcher said the children with behavior problems often flourish in foster homes.

“I met with a foster student in my Washington office several months ago and he really put this issue in my heart,” Hudson said. “This is something that affects so many of our communities and I believe it is important to hear directly from those involved to gain a better understanding of how we can improve these programs and give more children a chance to better their lives.”

Funding for parents and programs as well as the over-medication of kids in foster care were two of the main topics discussed.

Foster parents are given a $30 placement allotment, which is used to buy clothes and personal toiletry items for the kids.

Those at the meeting agreed, that’s not enough.

“It takes so much to raise a child,” said Djuna Bostick of Hamlet, who has both fostered and adopted a total of eight children.

“I really like doing what I do,” she said following the meeting. “It’s worked out good for me, but’s also very emotional.”

Bostick participates in shared parenting, saying it’s important that children keep a connection with their biological families.

“It’s very important for them to have that support,” she said.

Bostick also said there needs to be more foster parents like her, adding that it’s harder for teens to get placement than smaller children.

In foster care, some children are declared to need therapeutic homes and the parents have to be licensed. They also get paid more, almost triple.

One teen, currently a foster child, said she has been in both therapeutic and normal care and believes all parents should be paid the same.

“I feel you deserve a huge raise,” said Keshawn Little, a former foster child.

“We’re not in it for the money,” said Jimmy Smith. “If we were, we’d quit.”

“It is extremely touching to see families open their homes to children in need,” Hudson said.” We have a responsibility to make sure they have the necessary training and resources to give these children a fair shot.”

As social workers decried the breakdown in the mental health system, Little said that the trauma some foster children experience needs to be dealt with instead of just medicating them.

Smith and his wife Pam talked about having two male foster children, one a little more active than the other.

“We’re not medicating them,” Pam Smith said. “We want to fix the problem.”

“I love kids,” she said. “I feel like we need to do everything possible because they’re our next generation.”

Critcher said Richmond County used to have an on-site therapist to help foster children with their issues, but the position was lost with metal health reform.

Marcella Middleton, a liaison with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the General Assembly with the Say So program, said in smaller, rural counties, social workers often have to take on two positions.

“My social worker was like my second mother,” she said.

Middleton, who is working toward a degree in social work at UNC Pembroke, said the demand for degrees for social workers is getting higher, with a master’s required in Mecklenburg County.

“You have to know how to interact with people,” she said.

Middleton is a former foster child and was moved in and out of 16 homes in a span of eight years.

She said her life was affected both positively and negatively by her experience.

She said because she moved around so much, she wasn’t able to make a connection with her foster parents.

But on the positive side, she said she was exposed to different work opportunities and able to go to college.

“I think (foster care) gives youth and opportunity to be more than they could because of the opportunities,” she said. “We’re extending all the resources to them so they have a chance.”

After listening to the testimonies and concerns of those in the discussion, Hudson said he had several ideas “swirling around” in his head.

The congressman likened foster care reform to an initiative on poverty by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on the war on poverty,” he said. “I’m a Republican and Republicans don’t talk about poverty.”

He said Ryan’s plan would consolidate the myriad programs, wiping out the massive bureaucracy that oversees them and would look at each case based on the need of the individuals.

Hudson said no funding would be cut and states would still receive the same amount of money as under current law. He added these reforms would give states “more flexibility to solve their own problems.”

According to Hudson, most funding for foster care comes to the states through a federal program. More than $75 million was spent on caring for 3,400 kids in North Carolina in the most recent fiscal year.

Hudson also suggested getting private organizations to help pay for foster parent training.

Because of the federal debt and states tightening their budgetary belts, Hudson says “any effort by private and religious organizations to help contribute to improving these programs can have a profound impact on a child’s life.”

“Foster care programs have so much potential to provide a better life for children who have been abandoned or abused, but they also face so many challenges,” he said. “It’s clear that we need to reduce bureaucracy and streamline programs to ensure that the hardworking, dedicated professionals in our local communities have the resources they need to carry out their mission.”

The congressman made similar stops in Scotland and Robeson counties on Tuesday.

 

Richmond Daily Journal, by: William R. Toler

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