Foster parents always a need in Chambers County
LaFAYETTE — The need for foster parents in Chambers County isn’t diminishing anytime soon, and according to one supervisor in the Chambers County Department of Human Services, there can never be enough.
“There is always a need for foster parents,” Layla Letson, DHR service supervisor said. “I don’t think you can ever have enough.”
According to Julia Hyde, Chambers County DHR director, there are currently 38 homes in the county as well as 65 children in foster care, though that number is always changing.
Removing a child
The process of getting a child into a foster home usually starts from tragedy within a home. Hyde said DHR gets reports on a child from schools, relatives or law enforcement about an unsafe situation for a child.
She said DHR will do an investigation — usually with law enforcement — and decides if the child is safe in that home.
Letson said when DHR is on the scene, and a decision is made to remove the child from home, they have to get a pickup order signed by a judge and place the child into protective custody. She said a judge decides within 72 hours whether or not to keep that child in the care of the county or back to the family.
Once that happens, DHR will try to work with the family to create a safety plan and see if the child can stay with a relative. If not, the county has a list of foster parents to call immediately, so the child has a place to go.
“Pretty much as soon as we pick them up, we take them directly to a foster parent,” Letson said. “We don’t keep them here or take them home with us.”
Once the kid is in care, they are assigned a guardian and an attorney to make sure they have everything they need. DHR also creates an Individualized Service Plan (ISP) with the foster parents, birth parents, DHR and the attorneys. If the child is 10 years old or older, they can have input in the plan.
Letson said the plan breaks down what the parents need to do to get the kids returned, what DHR agrees to do and what services are required such as court hearings or drug tests.
“Visits with the kids are worked out as to when, where and how often,” Letson said. “From there, the family knows what is expected of them. Foster parents and DHR work together as a team to move that process forward.”
Hyde said when DHR first meets with a family who had a kid taken out of custody, they are told they have 12 months to commit to improving their life. She said it’s usually clear which ones are going to do the work.
“If somebody is going to work with you, they will start that day,” Hyde said. “They are not going to wait.”
Hyde said the parents must be clear of all substance abuse and complete several months of clean drug screens. They also need positive recommendations from a substance abuse counselor and proof they are putting things in place to address trigger points to relapse.
Letson said if the 12 months are elapsed and the birth parents are still working hard to improve themselves, the county will continue to work with them. However, if it comes to a point where DHR knows the parents aren’t making strides, the county will move toward the termination of parental rights.
Letson said the county will then go to court and the judge rules. If parental rights are terminated, the child is available for adoption.
“We would then look for a forever home for that child,” she said.
Becoming a foster parent
Letson said when she is contacted about becoming a foster parent, one of the first things she does is send them the minimum standards handbook, an 86-page book that breaks down all the requirements of being a foster parent.
Hyde said the parents must be able to support themselves, pass several criminal background checks, have no safety risks in the home and have space for the child to have its own personal area.
Parents are also required to pass a physical examination and get all immunization shots if caring for an infant.
Yarbi Cound, resource development coordinator, said there is a 10-week course prospective parents have to complete. Within those 10 weeks, there are two consultations when DHR meets with the parents in their home.
“It is a lengthy process,” Cound said.
The course isn’t just to test the parent’s ability to be a foster parent but also to prove their commitment to the process.
Hyde said the county is required to see kids in foster care once a month, but it is usually more. The parents are required to get the kids to school, feed them and clothe them.
The county will meet with the child individually during those home visit to see how it’s working out. Additionally, a resource worker will visit the home every six months to make sure it is still meeting minimum standards.
Cound said she looks for fire extinguishers that are charged, working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, baby gates with locks and cribs that are put together correctly.
Foster parents do get payments for caring for the children. Additionally, the children’s medical needs are taken care of through Medicaid. Hyde said the county will provide resources for the child in several instances and if the parents are struggling, it will see what can be done.
“What would we do without them (foster parents),” Hyde said. “If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have what we need for our kids.”
Although the parents do get some payments for caring for children, foster parenting isn’t a job to get rich, Letson said.
“People who get into fostering to make money are not making any money,” she said.
Hyde said one of her favorite moments is when she sees children after weeks in a foster home and the change is visible.“You see kids that are withdrawn and won’t talk to you,” she said. “After some time with their foster parents, it is amazing to see the difference.”
The DHR building in LaFayette hosts family visits. Hyde said the children are happy to see their birth parents, but they seem to exhibit more life and are more vibrant when they are matched up with a good foster parent.
Letson said the best part of the job is seeing everybody working together for the best interest of the child.
“It is supposed to work as a partnership, so when you see DHR, the foster parents and the birth parents all working together in the best interest of a child — that’s what is rewarding to me,” she said.