Hudson couple are foster parents to 30 so far -- and counting

Caldwell County has just 26 foster families; more needed
Mar. 15, 2013 @ 08:10 AM

Wendy Arroyo hates being an empty-nester.

In 2010, her youngest, Kayla, graduated from Hibriten High School. With the oldest, Logan, and her middle child, Josh, already out the door, she and her husband, Manuel, were not ready to throw in the parenting towel yet.

“We didn’t want to adopt but did want to be there for kids who needed a home,” Arroyo said.

An ad in the newspaper seeking foster parents caught her eye. Before long, they were licensed foster parents themselves, thanks to Valerie Ackerman, a foster home licensing worker for the Caldwell County Department of Social Services. For the next two years, Ackerman would become their stork, delivering, at last count, 30 foster children to their home in Hudson.

“We got our license on Oct. 13, 2010,” Wendy said from her office at Furniture Brands, where she is a logistics specialist. “Valerie called us that day about a 2-month-old baby. She asked if they could bring the child, would I foster.”

Foster parents provide temporary care for children until they either can be successfully reunited with their birth parents or can be placed for adoption. Foster parents care for infants who have just left the hospital, children who have been abused and neglected, or who need to be placed together with their siblings and also for teenagers. Foster families, social services and the birth family work together to find permanency, either through reunification or adoption.

The Arroyos are just one of only 26 families licensed for foster care in Caldwell County. A total of 257 Caldwell County children were in need of permanent homes -- with either their birth parents or adopted families -- as of Thursday. Fewer than 80 of them are currently with other relatives, and a few are returned to the birth parents but with no promise of permanency. Roughly half of the 257 are staying with foster families or group homes outside of the county.

Finding families willing to meet the challenge of becoming foster parents is a challenge on its own.

“It’s a real commitment,” Ackerman said. "It’s almost like a calling. You’re going to give more than you receive. You must learn to love the child as your own, but be ready to give it up at short notice.”

Children are removed from homes for a variety of reasons: child abuse (sexual or physical), neglect, inappropriate housing or supervision, medical neglect, dependency issues, the parents are in jail, or through the juvenile court system.

Foster parents are recruited through local churches, cable access television, schools, and booths at events throughout the county. Prospective foster parents must undergo a rigorous licensing process before taking the required foster-parenting classes. The primary goal for Social Services is to reunite the child with the birth family. Until then, finding the right fit between the foster child and foster parent can be tricky at best.

“The biggest challenge is matching a child’s needs with a family’s strengths,” Ackerman said. “It’s a constant recycling of families. Very few want to just foster. Most look to adopt eventually.”

Another barrier is race, according to Joy Grandy, adoption social worker and also a foster parent.

“There is definitely a need for African-American foster parents,” she said. “A lot of the foster kids are of African-American or biracial descent. We don’t want to root them up from the environment they are comfortable in. We like to keep them in the same communities and schools, if possible.”

The Arroyos became foster parents to the little child Ackerman brought. His birth mother and father both shuttled in and out of jail, and the Department of Social Services stepped in.

The Arroyos eventually decided to adopt the boy. They also currently house three foster children, ages 14, 8 and 4. A fourth one went home last week.

“It’s rewarding knowing that you’re helping a kid out,” Wendy said. “Valerie has been wonderful. “She’s just there to support us and get us what we need.”

Arroyo expects a call any day now.

WANT TO HELP?

The Caldwell County Department of Social Services will hold foster-parent classes on Saturdays, beginning April 20, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. More classes will be held on May 4 and May 11 during the same hours. Prospective foster parents must complete a foster-home application, have an initial home visit conducted, and submit a completed fingerprint card, and questionnaire (provided during the home visit) prior to April 5. Anyone interested should call Valerie Ackerman at 828-426-8281, or e-mail vackerman@caldwellcountync.org.