Saints on Earth
Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 12, 2009
They’re often called “Saints on Earth,” these people who take therapeutic foster children into their homes and into their hearts.
But “these people” shun that title, saying only that they have big, soft hearts and a lot of love to give.
Being a therapeutic foster parents isn’t easy. In fact, it’s most often a difficult undertaking and one that takes a special kind of person, said Renee Daughtry, therapeutic foster care case worker for the United Methodist Children’s Home. “Being a therapeutic foster parent is not something that anyone can do or everyone wants to do. It takes a special person with special skills to be a therapeutic foster parent.
“These children have suffered abuse, neglect, abandonment – some form of trauma – for more than one time. They come to us with a behavior diagnosis. They have special needs. So, yes, the people who step forward and become therapeutic foster parents are ‘Saints on Earth’”
Daughtry said she can’t answer the question that is asked of so many therapeutic foster parents.
“There are many different reasons people become therapeutic foster parents,” she said. “But, each one loves children and wants to do what they can to stop a child from hurting.”
Patsy Liveoak, program supervisor of the Southeast Region Therapeutic Foster Care with the United Methodist Children’s Home, said there are about 40 children currently in the UMCH program with about 25 of those in the South East Region.
“We need people to who are willing to become therapeutic foster parents, and we need people who will be tutors, mentors and those who will commit to respite care. There are so many needs and those who fill those needs are special people.”
Children come to the program at different ages and with different behavior diagnosis and Daughtry and Liveoak admitted that being a therapeutic foster parent is commitment that is not made easily or lightly.
It’s a strong commitment and one that invites change and stress and some heartbreak into one’s life but one that gives hope for a better life to a child who is hurting.
Patricia Brooks’ life had taken a sharp turn since she began taking therapeutic foster children into her home.
She had been a foster parent and knew the heartbreak that one feels when she has to let a child go.
The goal is that a therapeutic foster child can “step down” to traditional foster care and then be returned to his or her biological parent or parents or to be adopted.
Brooks’ belief that being a therapeutic foster parent was her ministry and that it stopped there. But siblings, a boy and girl, in her care had other ideas.
“When we learned that they would not be going home, it was right before spring break, and I want to wait until then,” Brooks said. “For children to hear news like that can be traumatic and you just don’t know how it will affect them – how they will react.”
When the children were told that they would not be going home, the young boy looked a Brooks and asked her “Will you please keep us?”
“I had to do some really hard thinking,” Brooks said. “I had never thought about adoption. I didn’t want to adopt but I did, and I’m thankful that I did.”
Brooks’ adult son was the reason behind her decision.
“He said, ‘Mama, if you don’t adopt them, you’ll worry me to death worrying about them, where they are and what’s happening to them, so you might as well go ahead,’” Brooks said, laughing.
His encouragement was all she needed and now she has a house full of love.
The children have been with Brooks for seven years, three as foster children and four “as mine.”
“These children are so appreciative,” Brooks said.
“Even the smallest things are big to them. I love to see their eyes light up, and it’s so wonderful to see the positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors. And, I think, ‘What if I had not done this? Where would they be?’ And, I’m so thankful for this opportunity and these children.”
Wendy Rouse is a therapeutic foster mom to a 16-year-old girl for one year and two months and it hasn’t been an easy road to travel but they’re now enjoying the ride.
Rouse worked with youth groups at her church and knew that she had a way with young people, especially the girls. So, becoming a therapeutic foster mom seemed to be the logical next step.
“But she when she came to me, she was hard and she put up a wall that I couldn’t get over or through,” Rouse said.
“Oh, we had a time,” Rouse said. “She was a handful. She’d try to run away and I was trying to sit up all night to make sure she didn’t get away and it was wearing me out. So, one day, I went and bought some cactus and planed one under each window and put a buzzer on the door and went to sleep at night.” Little by little, Rouse could take a single brick out of the wall, talk to her foster daughter and then put the brick back.
“We’d still have disagreements and one big one, she packed her bags and got ready for me to have her picked up,” Rouse said.
“She’d had that happen so many times, but I wasn’t going to give up on her.
“She waited and waited and, when no one came, she unpacked her bag. She asked me why nobody came, and I told her she was there to stay.”
Rouse said she and her foster daughter take trips together and are often like college roommates.
“She has learned that she has value and can make something of her life,” Rouse said.
“She knows others care about her and are there to help her. It has made a difference. The wall is coming down. And, she’s welcome to stay with me through college.”
Rebecca Mauldin has three children of her own, ages 8, 10 and 11, and has a 14-year-old therapeutic foster daughter who has been with the family for eight months.
“My husband grew up with a Kool-Aid mom who always had children around,” Mauldin said and added laughing. “He always wanted foster children, but it has taken him 21 years to talk me into it.”
Mauldin said the decision to become therapeutic foster parents was a family one.
“We talked with children and made sure they understood there would be changes,” she said. “We weren’t going to ask them to give up anything but things would be different.”
For Mauldin the decision was not difficult.
“I believe that God gives us gifts and, if we don’t use them, we are denying God,” she said. “This was an opportunity for us to do something to help someone turn her life around.”
Having a therapeutic foster daughter has helped the Mauldin children more understanding and caring people.
“It has increased their humanity and empathy,” she said.
“It has been good for all of us. And, of all of us, I enjoy having our foster daughter around the most. We have a good relationship, and I can see changes in her that are very positive and I feel good about her future.”
The therapeutic foster parents said those whose hearts are being tugged toward caring for children who don’t think they are worthy of love should listen to their hearts and “Just Do It.”
And, they have the answer to why they are therapeutic foster parents, “Because God is so good and He has blessed us.”