Foster parent organization helps children adjust to a normal life

By Greg Miller
STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

   The Carter County Foster Care Association works with approximately 25 children on an ongoing basis to help meet a variety of needs. "We are trying to assist foster children and their foster families with the transition to a normal life," said Steve Stenstream, who serves as CCFCA's president and treasurer.
   "Some children are only in the state's custody for a short period of time until they can be placed with relatives. Other children remain in custody until they are adopted," Stenstream said.
   The association works with children ages birth to age 18, "unless the child agrees to remain in (the) state's custody after their 18th birthday, and attend college full time until age 21."
   Foster parents, Stenstream said, are required to attend Parents As Tender Healers (PATH) classes provided by the state. This is usually a 10-week course, which meets one night a week. Parents are then required to attain 15 hours of state-approved training each year.
   "Foster parents must have a thorough background check, provide personal references; be fingerprinted; provide an autobiography, (and), if married, be in a stable marriage; pass a physical examination and TB test; provide detailed financial information, and have a home study completed by their assigned home county case manager," said Stenstream.
   Serving as a foster parent can be a very rewarding experience for adults and helps meet a great need in the lives of those children who are assisted by the program, according to Stenstream. "The requirements are strict; however, this is done to protect the children from moving from one bad situation to another."
   According to Stenstream more foster parents are greatly needed, and children are reaping the unfortunate consequences of a society where parenting responsibilities are being ignored.
   Foster parents are not required to pay an annual membership fee; however, it does cost to belong to a local or state foster parent organization.
   The Elizabethton Public Library meeting room is the usual location for CCFCA's monthly meetings, unless training exceeding their "open hours" occurs, Stenstream said. Last month, Betty Hastings from the state organization, TFACA, was the scheduled speaker for training on "Allegations." The November meeting was held at Borderview Christian Church.
   "We discuss the basic business of the association and new interests of the members," Stenstream said. "Some of our monthly meetings include foster parent training. We offer opportunities for the children to gather for holiday meals, cookouts at the park, etc. It is helpful for the children to know they are not the 'only one' and associate with other children from similar situations. In September, we took our group for a day at Dollywood (some of the children had never been before), with a dinner afterwards in Sevierville. A price cannot be placed on the smiles of these children when they are having a good time and can forget for a little while the burdens they carry."
   Stenstream said the association offers a scholarship for an essay competition winner. Any high school graduating foster child who is furthering his or her education and who remains in the foster system is eligible to receive the scholarship.
   Patty Szabo serves as the CCFCA's vice president and secretary.
   For more information, call 474-2842.