Family fosters hope by helping kids in crisis

By April Bethea

The Associated Press

0 Comments | Leave a Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tanya Greene and her husband were looking for ways to continue building their family after she lost twins during a pregnancy.

The couple, who have a 14-year-old son, considered adoption. But the process was too expensive, and the family looked at foster care instead.

It was another way, Greene said, "to give children the time and the love that we do have in our home."

During their search, the Greenes learned about Carolina Family Connections, a private Charlotte agency that works with local social services departments to place children into foster homes.

Because the moves can happen within hours, the nonprofit keeps a storage room of clothes, diapers, car seats, toys and other items that can go to families if needed. Almost all of the goods have been donated by the public.

The donations came in handy earlier this month when a 4-year-old was placed into the Greene home and Carolina Family Connections sent along clothes and toys for the boy. A 15-year-old also joined the family in August.

"We give (families) whatever they need to get a start," said Laine Clontz, president of Carolina Family Connections.

Clontz started the nonprofit in 2006 with Ritchie Melchor, with whom she'd previously worked at Lutheran Family Services. Both have spent their careers working with children, many of them needy. Social worker Wendy Kiser and a student intern from UNC Charlotte round out the staff.

Carolina Family Connections helps would-be foster parents earn their state-required license, including offering classes on weekends to make it easier for them to obtain the required credits. Prospective families must also fill out a detailed application, including a list of five references.

After being alerted to a need from DSS, the nonprofit's staff searches a master list of families to try to find out which home would be best. They'll then call a family and tell them everything they know about the foster child — the good and the bad such as any behavioral or health concerns.

The agency has placed 90 children in foster homes since 2007.

The state had about 125 licensed private child-placing agencies in mid-November, including 21 in Mecklenburg. The agencies, many of whom partner with local social services offices, must follow guidelines from the state such as having signed agreements with a child's parent, guardian or other custodian before a child is placed in another home. Also, children in foster homes have at least monthly face-to-face visits with a social worker or case manager.

The Carolina Family Connections staff does visit with families, but staff say they also look for other ways to stay in touch with families. They frequently take calls from parents seeking advice. Staff members also accompany families to court whenever there is a hearing involving the child. Greene said someone also was present earlier this month when her 15-year-old foster son was in a rodeo event.

Every Monday, the staff also reports on all of the children they're working with — meeting in a room that also doubles as a visitation area for children and their birth families.

"I commend them for going that extra mile for taking care of their kids," said Jackie Robinson of Charlotte, whose family is planning to adopt two children they have as foster kids.

Melchor said the goal is to make sure foster parents know they have somewhere to go for help.

"If we have a foster family and they don't feel support, then we've failed," Melchor said.

Looking ahead, Clontz and Melchor said they'd like to look for ways to expand Carolina Family Connections, including possibly doing after-school programs for children not in foster care.

They're also looking for ways to expand activities they do with foster families. Currently, they host a few events during the years for families to get together.

Ideally, they'd like to start taking children on field trips, Clontz said, including going out of town during the summer.

It's something they'd done at a previous agency, and she and Melchor said the trips offered many children their first chance to travel.

They're also encouraging foster families to give back, including having older children do volunteer work.

Laurie Crawford says she's looking for a way to pass the help on. She and her husband have adopted a 5-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl they'd originally taken in as foster children.

The younger girl was placed in the home through assistance from Carolina Family Connections.

Crawford said they plan to keep their foster home license active so they can help care for other children if needed. She also asked Clontz if there was a way she could help other foster families, and was matched with another foster family.

Crawford wants to help get gifts for the children and provide the family with a complete Christmas dinner.

"I just felt in my heart that I wanted to do more for another family," she said.