Foster care – Open hearts, open homes
Published 8:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2023
The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) reports there are more than 5,700 children in Alabama needing foster care. Currently, there are only just over 2,360 foster care homes.
Jacqueline Lee with the Lowndes County Department of Human Resources (DHR) said there are currently 10 area children in the foster care system. Three of those are housed in local homes; the others live in other counties.
District Judge Adrian Johnson said the county is fortunate to have a low number of children needing foster care but acknowledged that more foster parents are needed to help keep those kids close to their communities.
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“In Lowndes County, we need people who are compassionate and caring, to open their homes and become foster parents,” Johnson said. “If children have to be placed in foster care, typically they are placed outside of the county because there are not enough foster parents to meet the need.”
Lee helps children find loving foster homes and also assists families who want to foster to become certified, providing them with training and resources needed to navigate some of the challenges of parenting children who have experienced trauma.
James and Melissa Shaffer considered fostering for about 10 years before taking steps to become foster parents. As empty nesters, the pair felt they had room in their hearts and home to welcome children and after viewing brothers on the Heart Gallery Alabama site, the couple approached Lee, who is helping them navigate the training process and prepare to welcome the brothers and their sister.
“We raised our kids and they are all grown now,” James Shaffer recalled. “We’re kind of in a position now where we thought maybe we could pay it forward a little and give kids a nice home and show them there’s a better life out there than maybe what they’ve been through before.”
May is designated as National Foster Care Month, a time to salute parents, like the Shaffers, who commit to opening their hearts and homes to children who need them.
Lee said she has witnessed a great deal of love from families who decide to foster.
“I see a lot of love and nurturing from them,” Lee said. “They want to give children something that they have not had from their biological parents. They want to open them up to broader views of the world and give them that spirit of how happy life can be.”
The Shaffers, who have already met the three foster children, look forward to the day they can bring the children home.
“Mrs. Lee wants to keep the children together,” Shaffer said. “They’ve had interest in fostering and adopting one of the boys, but they wanted to keep them all together. We had inquired about the boys, and they asked if we would consider taking their sister and we said, ‘Yes.’”
Johnson said courts are legally obligated to reunite children with their family whenever possible, but sometimes that option is off the table. In those cases, having families like the Shaffers who can help keep the children within their communities is vital.
“We have a great need for local foster parents because we want to decrease the amount of stress that is placed on the child,” Johnson said. “We would like to be able to keep children in their community. We want to do everything we can to facilitate reunification and keeping that child in the community is a great way to do that. But more importantly from the child’s perspective, if we can reduce the amount of stress of them going into a new environment, then that’s what we want to pursue. Having local foster parents that can keep that child potentially in the same school that they were attending, maybe attending the same church, the same community events, and that just helps that child to overcome all of the traumatic events that they’ve had to endure.”
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit www.dhr.alabama.gov/foster-care/.