Foster parenting rewarding experience

By Billy Corriher

Janice McFadden was lucky to be adopted by her grandmother and now she wants to give a needy child the same support she received.

"I just want to be a positive mother figure for someone else," she said.

McFadden was part of a recent class of foster parents who completed Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services' 30-hour training program.

McFadden said that looking back on her childhood, she can appreciate how important a positive role model is for a child, and she is alarmed by the situation many children are in.

"You have more teenagers having children," she said. "And more kids are not getting the opportunities they should."

The fresh group of potential foster parents will be a big help to DFCS, which cares for more than 500 children but has only 130 foster homes, said Social Services Case Manager LaVett Birdsong. Because of the shortage of families, many foster families have to care for more than the recommended limit of six children.

Chuck Fischer, deputy director of DFCS, said the caseload also will likely increase in the coming weeks, because some parents are overwhelmed by holiday stress or party too much.

"It's conceivable we could get 20 more kids this year," he said.

Becoming a foster parent takes time. In addition to the free 10-week training program, applicants must also offer a list of references and submit to a background check, drug screening, medical exam and a home evaluation.

If the applicants are approved and receive foster children, the state pays for clothes, medical care and therapy, in addition to a monthly reimbursement. For every child under 5 years of age, parents receive $12.75 per day. For children age 6 to 12, parents are reimbursed $13.50 per day and for children over 13, the reimbursement is $14.25 per day.

Doug and Lee Savoy care for five foster children in addition to four children they adopted through DFCS. Though trying at times, Doug Savoy said their experience has been very rewarding and they always welcome children in need.

"The more we did it, the more we realized there are kids out there who need a home," he said.

Savoy admits that he and his wife have had some difficulties caring for foster children who often come into their home burdened with issues, but they have been able to help most of them move on to become happy, sociable children.

The Savoys have cared for 35 children in the five years they have worked with DFCS, and of those they have adopted four.

"Once you get attached to these kids," Savoy said, "it's hard to let go."

McFadden said she learned through the DFCS training that the county cares for many troubled children and fostering will not be easy.

"The biggest challenge is getting past that and seeing that the anger is not directed at you, so you can work with the child," she said.

McFadden now realizes what a burden she was on her grandmother and hopes her experience with fostering will make her a better, more patient parent.

"The thing you have to realize is it's not just about receiving unconditional love, but giving it, too," she said.

Janet Choates, who attended the DFCS training so she can adopt children, said the rewards of dealing with the children outweigh the difficulties.

"When you first get your children, you might think they hate you," she said. "But they really love you in the end."