Many organizations contract with DCS to serve the Tennessee Valley region of which Bradley and Polk counties are a part. Whether for profit or not-for-profit, these organizations must meet DCS guidelines.
DCS groups children into different levels of care. DCS resource parents can serve children with Level 1 needs. Organizations and companies place children with Level 2 and 3 needs. This is considered therapeutic foster care.
The goal in every instance is to work toward a permanent home for the child, either through being reunited with their birth parents with better circumstances, living with a relative or in some cases adoption.
“In foster care, you’re given a permanency plan (developed with in the court system), where basically it is pretty set in stone of what everyone has to accomplish in order to go home. The foster parents, the child and the birth parents all have a good idea of what they have to do,” said Kristen Stucker, foster parent recruiter and trainer. “Youth Villages focuses on children that have had some trauma, usually some sort of abuse, abandonment or neglect.”
“They (DCS) usually place in their homes first, and then they will call an outside agency if they need to place a child,” said Jennifer Davis, Chambliss Center for Children resource parent recruiter and trainer.
Davis said sibling groups and teenagers are the most common children DCS uses contract organizations to place. Chambliss Center for Children, a nonprofit, usually serves children ages 10 to 17. Younger children are easier to find foster care homes for, because these are the children most people feel like they can handle, Davis said.
There is currently one Chambliss resource parent in Bradley County.
Stucker said potential parents’ preferences play a lot in the choice of type of child they parent.
“Ultimately, it’s the parents’ decision if they are going to accept a child or not, but we do try to match them up the best we can,” Stucker said.
Although DCS requires parents to be at least 21 years old, therapeutic foster care organizations require that they be 25 or older.
“One of the most important things when you are training a foster parent is for them to understand the impact of trauma, really understand behavior; positive and negative really isn’t just a behavior with these children, you have to look behind the behavior,” Davis said.
Parents as Tender Healers training is required for each therapeutic foster parent. Chris Gates, licensure and recruitment administrator of Camelot Care Centers (a for-profit organization), said during this training is when potential resource parents make their final decision about becoming foster parents.
Stucker said the training serves as a way to prepare parents for anything that could happen. After the classes a home study is conducted to ensure that the home is a safe place and a good fit for the children. Stucker said the home study includes creating a mini-biography of the potential parents to see who they would best fit with. During home studies the resource parent recruiter will get to know potential parents, including their background and how they were disciplined as children.
Children with treatment needs may spend time in a group home before coming to a foster care family.
“There are probably a 100 kids in our residential homes that are from East Tennessee,” Stucker said.
She said there are about 15 from the Southeast Tennessee in the residential facilities that could be moved to a foster care resource parent setting if there were families available. Sometimes the child’s birth family is not ready to take them back when they are ready to leave the group home, so the child will go to a resource family.
Stucker said when a child is coming into foster care from a residential facility they can sometimes schedules a time for the child to visit with the parents for a weekend before being placed in the home. Stucker said sometimes resource parents will serve as weekend relief parents for current resource parents before becoming resource parents themselves.
When placing a child with a foster care, organizations try to keep a child in the same area, so he or she can attend the same school.
“That is not always possible,” Stucker said.
Currently, there is only one Youth Villages resource parent in Bradley County.
When the plans for reuniting the family become impossible or a parent surrenders the right to the child, a permanent home is looked for among the child’s relatives. Stucker said if a permanent home cannot be found, the child becomes adoptable.
“Fifty-eight percent usually go home to their parents,” Stucker said. “Then another 10 percent are placed with a relative.”
The child’s current foster parents are asked first if they would like to adopt the child. A foster parent must have a child for six months before the adoption process can begin. Stucker said this is to ensure the adoption will be successful. However, there are some children in foster care who are eligible for adoption right from the start.
DCS provides funding to pay for the adoption fees, according to Lisa Terrell, licensure and recruitment administrator for Camelot Care Centers. Terrell said some children qualify for additional state assistance after being adopted.
If the parental rights are terminated by the state, then the biological parent has 10 days to appeal the termination, according to Davis.
Not every child in the Foster Care system is eligible for adoption.
However, this can change.
“There are a lot of kids that are never going to be adoptable, is what the permanency plan says, and then one day it just happens (that they become adoptable),” Stucker said.
Stable income and transportation are important for resource parents.
“Have more coming in than going out,” Stucker said.
Davis said the potential foster parents cannot be receiving government assistance, such as Food Stamps.
Stucker and Davis said diversity is needed.
“The kids are all different, so we need different people who are going to fit in with different kids,” Stucker said.
Davis said children are more comfortable in a foster care environment where they are the same ethnicity as the foster parents. This is not always possible.
“Our children may need some more intensive counseling,” Stucker said.
At the moment however there is only one Youth Villages family in Bradley County.
Stucker said the organization does not have a preference of whether a potential resource parents is single or married.
“We have quite a few single parents and we have a lot of couples,” Gates said.
“It’s very rewarding but it’s a big decision,” Stucker said.
How long a child stays in foster care is largely determined by the court system. Davis said the average stay in Tennessee is 13 months.
No matter how long a child is in their home, foster parents can continue to have contact with them.
“We would love for that relationship to be ongoing for forever,” Stucker said.
Davis said an ongoing relationship with the foster parent is something that would be “encouraged.” She said this relationship could provide ongoing support for the child even after the child leaves their care.
If the child is reunited with the birth parents, then the birth parents would make the decision, Terrell said. For those who age out, the decision is theirs. Stucker said there are some families that have good ongoing relationships with their child’s former resource parents.
Gates said sometimes additional information is found out about a child after care begins. In-home therapist Natalie Hood helps children in Camelot foster care work through behavioral issues. Each Youth Villages family has a counselor who works with the foster families.
The age of children in foster care varies.
“We get 2-day-old babies and we get referrals for 17-year-olds right before they age out of the system,” Gates said.
Camelot has four resource families in Bradley County.
Those interested in becoming therapeutic resource parents can visit an organization website to begin the process. Any organization serving the DCS Tennessee Valley Region would also be serving Bradley County. Those highlighted here are only a few examples.
Youth Villages: http://www.youthvillages.org/
Camelot Care Centers: http://www.thecamelotdifference.com/