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Fostering hope in future generations

By Justin Reedy

Glenda Horton asked for guidance from God in what to do with her spare time after retiring, and got the answer from an unexpected source: then-Gov. Roy Barnes.

The Jonesboro resident saw Barnes on television talking about how the state needed more foster and adoptive parents for children taken from abusive and neglectful situations, and that's when she made her mind up.

"I had prayed about what God wanted me to do after my retirement," Horton said. "I knew I wouldn't have much to do, and I didn't have any grand aspirations to travel the world or anything."

Horton knew she wanted to help out a charitable organization in some way, but when she found out about the state's shortage of foster parents she realized that was a cause in which she could really make a difference. So she called the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services, enrolled in the state's mandatory 10-week training program for prospective foster parents, and before long was fostering an 11-year-old girl.

Three years later, the 53-year-old woman has taken care of 10 children during her time as a foster parent, including the three in her custody now. Since she's never had children of her own, being a foster parent offers Horton a chance to have a positive impact on the lives of children who have struggled with abuse, neglect, or the loss of their parents.

It hasn't always been happy n some children in foster care have come from bad situations which leave them with discipline problems n but Horton still loves it.

"It's very rewarding," she explained. "It's been very trying at times. It's definitely been worth it, though."

Horton loves that she's able to give some stability to children whose lives are in transition because they've had to move from school to school or county to county.

"Some haven't even gone through an entire school year at the same school," she said. "So it's important to me to be able to provide them with someplace stable. I realize I may never see the end result, but I want them to grow up to be responsible adults."

And though she doesn't usually get to see children after they leave her care to go back with their parents, or to adoptive parents, Horton has been able to watch one of her former foster daughters return to a normal life. The girl, who was 11 years old when she came to live with Horton, stayed in the woman's care for 18 months while her mother got back on her feet.

"When I got her, she was kind of resentful to be in the situation she was in," Horton recalled. "But her birth mother came over and encouraged her to get along with me, and it worked out well. I was very glad to see her get to go back with her mother. They go to my church now, and when I see her there she comes up and hugs me."

Including Horton, Clayton County DFCS has about 115 households in which they've placed foster children, according to LeeGayle Harvill, the supervisor of the county's foster parent program. But even that isn't enough, Harvill said, with so many children winding up in the state's care.

"We're always in need of foster homes," she said. "Especially with people willing to take teen-age children. We also need people in multicultural homes, or Hispanic families, or stay-at-home parents who can take care of medically fragile children."

In addition to parents who can meet specific needs, such as non-English-speaking children, DFCS is interested in recruiting local parents who can take care of children without them having to leave the community.

"We want children who are taken into foster care in this community to be able to stay in the community," said Cathy Ratti, the director of Clayton County DFCS. "In order for us to do that, we need more local foster parents. Right now, when we don't have enough foster parent placements in the county, we have to go to another county, and then the children end up growing up outside of the community they were used to. That's difficult on the children and the rest of the family, so I'd like to keep our kids in our community."

New foster parents are also needed to fill in when other parents leave the program, Ratti said, whether to stop participating at all or because they adopt a child they had been fostering.

"There's turnover in the foster parent ranks, just like there's turnover in case workers," she said. "Many of our parents end up adopting children, which is wonderful, but that often prevents them from taking in other foster children. So we really need a constant flow into the foster parent program."

Becoming a foster parent can be a long process, Ratti warned, that includes taking one training seminar per week for 10 weeks as required by the state. But the cost of the training, as well as any charges for background checks and fingerprinting are handled by DFCS, she said.

For more information about becoming a foster parent in Clayton County, contact Debbie Sanders, a family service worker for DFCS, at (770) 603-4604.

In addition to continuous recruitment for the foster parent program, Clayton County DFCS is holding a foster and adoptive parent recruitment fair this weekend in Riverdale. The event, which is free to the public, lasts from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Timberlake Church of the Nazarene, 8561 Ga. Highway 85. It will feature activities for children including a giant slide, clowns, face painting, and a fire safety house set up by the Clayton County Fire Department.

The fair will also include an auction of amusement park tickets, dinner and vacation packages and other gifts, with the proceeds from the auction going towards sending foster children to the Royal Family Kids Camp this summer. The auction occurs at 6 p.m. at the church.

In addition, DFCS workers will be on hand at the fair to provide information about adopting or fostering children, as well as to answer any questions people may have about those programs.