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Cullman County DHR hosting Foster Care Expo this Saturday

Earlier this year, pinwheels representing Cullman County foster kids covered the front lawn of the DHR office. (Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN - This Saturday, the Cullman County Department of Human Resources (DHR) will host its first ever Foster Care Expo in Christ Hall at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church, 512 Second Ave. SE in Cullman. 

DHR Program Supervisor Amanda Buchanan supervises foster care, adoptions, family preservation units and foster care licensing, in addition to being a two-time adoptive mom herself. 

“It’s mainly a recruitment event,” said Buchanan.  “We’ve realized that our biggest recruitment for foster parents has come through other foster parents.  That’s how we seem to get new foster parents, is through word of mouth, and our current foster parents talking with other people about their real-life experiences.”

Training sessions for credit will be provided by the Children’s Aid Society from Birmingham.  The event will also include children’s activities like inflatables and face painting and lunch.

“Prospective foster parents are encouraged to come and hear about what fostering is all about,” said Buchanan.  “The event will also provide time to get to know some of our community partners that help to support local foster homes.  I am excited that The Link (of Cullman County) will be a part of our event and appreciate that partnership. Many DHR staff will be on hand to answer questions and assist participants during the event.  Childcare is being provided and some refreshments. We want our children to have a foster home in Cullman County. At this time a third of our children are placed out of County.”

Cullman County currently has 168 children and teens in foster care, with a total of only 47 foster homes.  Many homes take in multiple children, but 39 percent of Cullman’s foster kids have to be housed in other counties due to a lack of places in Cullman County.

At an awareness event this past spring, Buchanan told The Tribune, “Whenever kids have to come into care, we’d rather them be in a home that’s close to where they were already living, ideally continuing to go to their same school, you know, change their environment as little as possible.  But if the resource is not available, sometimes it’s not possible.”

Some of the kids coming into the system will need foster care for only a few days.  Others may have to wait to be reunited with their families or to be adopted.

Said Buchanan, “All of these children share the need for a caring and committed family that can bring them the future they deserve.”

What is the greatest need?

According to Buchanan, “Placements are needed for all ages but most importantly for children ages 8 and older.  Children enter foster care at all ages and the perception is that older children all have behaviors. We want folks to keep in mind that most of the children that enter our system are much like our own children.  Applicants can be approved to foster, foster and adopt, or only to adopt.”

What does it take to become a foster parent?

Said Buchanan, “The main requirement is to have the ability and desire to provide the type of care needed by the children served.”

Foster families can take in one or more children, up to a maximum of six.

DHR requirements include:

  • Foster parent has to be at least 19 years of age.
  • Foster home has enough space for the child and his or her belongings.
  • All members of foster family are willing to share their home with a child who needs care.
  • All members of foster family are in good health.
  • All adults in the home are willing to undergo a thorough background check, including criminal history.

Foster care applicants must complete a 10-week, 30-hour preparation course, and their homes must conform to Alabama Minimum Standards for Foster Family Homes.  The standards will be explained and reviewed during the applicant’s training. If you apply, home visits will be scheduled to assure your home meets the requirements.

The only cost to the applicant is any improvements needed to make the home meet minimum standards and the cost of completion of any medical forms.

Children in foster care and foster families have social workers assigned to them to support the placement and to access necessary services.  Children will receive Medicaid to cover healthcare expenses. Through DHR, foster parents can find additional training opportunities and access a local Foster Parent Association.  Families receive a payment each month for room and board, and for foster parents who are employed or in school, daycare assistance is provided.

What about adoption?

According to Buchanan, “If a foster parent has a child in their home who becomes available for adoption, they are given the first option to adopt.  If an applicant inquires through Cullman County DHR to adopt only, the requirements for adoption are the same; however, their home study is approved by the state office and they are considered as potential adoptive placements for Alabama's Waiting Children.”

Alabama's Waiting Children are children who are available for adoption in Alabama but have not yet been placed in an adoptive home, whose parents’ rights have already been terminated.

What does it mean to foster a child?

Buchanan said fostering means “taking a child into your home, making them part of your family and treating them like you would own children while working in partnership with the agency and the child's family to ensure the child achieves permanency as quickly as possible.  Permanency can be either returning home to parents, returning to relatives or adoption. The department's main goal is always to return children home when at all appropriate, and this transition works much more smoothly when the child has the support of their foster family.”

For more information about DHR fostering and adoption opportunities, call Christy Webb at 256-737-5342 or Leah Miller at 256-737-5348.  Anyone interested in mentoring can contact Gina Davis at 256-737-5305.

At a glance

Cullman County DHR Foster Care Expo

Saturday, August 18, 2018, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Christ Hall, St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church

512 Second Ave. SE, Cullman

Childcare and lunch provided.

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