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The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY -

due to a short­age of foster par­ents, only a small por­tion of those chil­dren are liv­ing in foster homes within the county at this time.

“We’re part of an 11-county re­gion,” says Chris­tian. “When a home can’t be found within the county, we start branch­ing out and look­ing in other parts of our re­gion.”

That means, says Chris­tian, that chil­dren can end up as far away as Fan­nin, Gilmer, Pick­ens or Chero­kee coun­ties. “It’s not good for the chil­dren, their fam­i­lies or us,” Chris­tian says. “It makes visi­ta­tion, court dates and our monthly DFCS vis­its with the chil­dren dif­fi­cult.”

Chris­tian says the first goal of DFCS when a call is re­ceived about a child pos­si­bly at risk is to make sure the child is safe. “From there,” says Chris­tian, “we start work­ing with the fam­ily. That of­ten in­volves drug or al­co­hol treat­ment pro­grams and par­ent­ing classes, sta­bi­liz­ing liv­ing and work­ing con­di­tions to make sure a child will be pro­vided for. There are so many dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, so there’s a lot to con­sider.”

The pri­mary de­sire of DFCS, says Chris­tian, is to see chil­dren re­turned to sta­ble, lov­ing homes. Sadly, that is of­ten not pos­si­ble when par­ents can’t seem to over­come ad­dic­tions or abu­sive be­hav­ior, so their chil­dren re­main in the foster care sys­tem.

“We have the best foster par­ents in Walker County,” says Chris­tian. “But we need more of them. We’re al­ways look­ing for more foster homes so we can keep chil­dren close to their fam­i­lies and close to us.”

Dana and Dave Wil­liams have as high an opin­ion of Chris­tian as she does of them. “She’s been just great,” says Dana. “You can call her any time of the day or night. She’s al­ways there for you.”

Sup­port is a vi­tal part of foster care and it’s a com­plex net­work, both for­mal and in­for­mal.

Dana and Dave say they’re es­pe­cially for­tu­nate to have their fam­i­lies firmly be­hind what they’re do­ing. “My mother will call a cou­ple of days be­fore Christ­mas to see if we have any new chil­dren stay­ing with us so she’s sure to get them gifts, too,” says Dana.

In 2014, the Wil­liamses faced one of their big­gest chal­lenges. Their house burned to the ground. “I had the younger kids with me,” says Dana. “Three teenagers were at home, but they all got out okay.” The fire was caused by a faulty dryer vent.

DFCS of­fered to place the chil­dren in other homes while Dave and Dana got back on their feet, but the cou­ple de­clined. The fam­ily stayed with Dave’s mother for a while then rented a place while their home was re­built.

The fire turned out to be a bless­ing in dis­guise. “I was able to de­sign the new house,” says Dave, “to bet­ter suit our needs.” In their pre­vi­ous house, Dave had been turn­ing ev­ery avail­able nook and cranny, in­clud­ing a foyer and the din­ing room, into a bed­room. To ac­com­mo­date the crowd they al­ways had for meal­times, Dave had nailed two pieces of ply­wood to their ex­ist­ing ta­ble and Dana had cov­ered it with a plas­tic table­cloth from a dol­lar store.

It took ten months to re­build, but the end re­sult was a roomy home with nine bed­rooms and a large base­ment, a ta­ble that seats twelve, a long porch the kids can play on and many other im­prove­ments over their pre­vi­ous house.

The open-floor­plan kitchen-din­ing room-liv­ing room is es­pe­cially nice, since Dana and Dave are big on cel­e­bra­tions and of­ten have com­pany, in­clud­ing for­mer foster chil­dren, in ad­di­tion to their own cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion of chil­dren. “We like to cel­e­brate birth­days,” says Dana. “One of the first things we find out about a child is when his or her birth­day is. Even if it’s the day they come to us, we rush around and pull to­gether a party.”

Be­sides the en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port they get from their fam­i­lies and their church, Dana and Dave are part of a group of foster and adop­tive par­ents, Walker County Foster Adop­tive Par­ents As­so­ci­a­tion, that keep in con­stant con­tact with one an­other through Face­book, by phone and text and in per­son. “If one of us has a sit­u­a­tion we’ve never faced or we’re just over­whelmed, there’s al­ways some­one who can help,” says Dana. The group also has pic­nics and get­to­geth­ers for en­tire fam­i­lies.

Then there are the fam­i­lies that have had their chil­dren re­moved from their homes. Of­ten, the par­ents are al­lowed visi­ta­tion with their chil­dren, some­times for a few hours at a time, some­times for week­ends.

Dana likes to stay in touch with the chil­dren’s fam­i­lies. “I’ll text the mom pic­tures of the kids, let her know how they’re do­ing. If they’re go­ing home for a week­end visit, I put things in their back­pack, like school work and art projects, for the par­ents to see.”

Chris­tian says that when a fam­ily can be re­united, it’s a happy day for ev­ery­one. “We had one set of par­ents who worked re­ally hard to get their kids back. They got off drugs, got a house. They’re do­ing great.”

Those chil­dren had stayed with the Wil­liamses for six months. “We keep in touch,” says Dana. “They still come to visit and come over for birth­day par­ties.”

The peace of the Wil­liams’ home be­lies the amount of work in­volved in fos­ter­ing a lot of chil­dren. Days are filled with things the av­er­age fam­ily doesn’t usu­ally deal with – many vis­its to doc­tors, coun­selors, court, get­ting kids ready to visit their nat­u­ral par­ents and of­ten deal­ing with be­hav­ioral is­sues when they re­turn, pa­per­work, so­cial worker vis­its.

“Night­time is hard for young chil­dren,” says Dana. “They need a lot of com­fort.” Some­times an older child will run away, and all the chil­dren need a lot of TLC.

Dana says her gro­cery bill av­er­ages $250 a week. She does one big shop­ping or­der a week, then she or Dave pick up ex­tras as needed. “We go through a lot of milk,” says Dave. The chil­dren help cook and they all have a few chores. The fam­ily eats all meals at home, be­cause the cost and lo­gis­tics of eat­ing out with so many chil­dren is too much.

Af­ter 120 chil­dren, you would think Dave and Dana would be los­ing steam, but they’re not – they’re more like “full steam ahead.”

The cou­ple re­cently es­tab­lished a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, Our Kin­dred Com­mu­nity, to work to­ward help­ing chil­dren who are age­ing out of the foster care sys­tem but need a fam­ily and sup­port. Their plan is to turn their base­ment into liv­ing quar­ters for girls and a nearby house they’re in the process of buy­ing into liv­ing quar­ters for boys. Their mis­sion state­ment for this new project: “We ex­ist to con­nect young adults who have aged out of foster care, or for any other rea­son lack a healthy sup­port sys­tem, with fam­i­lies will­ing to em­brace life­long re­la­tion­ships.”

Dave and Dana have ad­vice for oth­ers who feel moved to help chil­dren in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, “Fos­ter­ing is the hard­est, most re­ward­ing thing you’ll ever do, but you don’t have to do it like we do. If you have room, do week­ends or respite or short-term care.”

The sec­ond and fourth Thurs­days of ev­ery month, NaTasha Chris­tian of­fers a one­hour overview of how to be a foster parent. She cov­ers the dif­fer­ent types of fos­ter­ing, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, train­ing re­quire­ments, sup­port ser­vices and an­swers any ques­tions some­one might have. “We need all kinds of foster par­ents,” says Chris­tian, “lov­ing peo­ple who can open their hearts and homes to chil­dren in need.”

To learn more about foster care in Walker County, read­ers can call NaTasha Chris­tian at 423-355-8097 or email her at natasha. chris­

To learn more about Our Kin­dred Com­mu­nity, visit their Face­book page at: face­ ourkin­dred­com­mu­nity.

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