An hour of television on Maryland Public Broadcasting tonight tries to dispel the negative image that is conjured up by the words "foster care."
When foster parents or children make it into the media, it's usually a story of neglect or abuse. Sometimes, ill-equipped parents are given care of a vulnerable child. Sometimes a child has fallen through the cracks in the system and wound up lost and in trouble. Sometimes, the good, hard-working parents are not given the support they need and find themselves at the mercy of an uncaring bureaucracy.
"Desperately Seeking Parents," a half hour on MPT that will be on channels 22 and 67 tonight at 8 o'clock, profiles a variety of parents and children who tell different stories.
They tell of loving families and happy kids, of teen-agers who find a caring adult for the first time and get their lives straightened out, of parents who find a new source for strength and meaning in their already rich lives.
One girl came to a foster family with a drug and alcohol problem picked up from her crowd of friends. Her new foster mother didn't try to lay down the law and straighten her out the first day she was there. She and the other kids in the house simply provided support and, most importantly, an example of what is possible if you do something else with your life. That girl is now a college student.
An adult, now a hospital administrator, tells of happy years in foster care, the first stability he had known, that were interrupted when he was adopted. After a few months of problems, he was dumped back on the foster care system. Luckily, it took care of him again.
Glen Davis of the Orioles tells of what it meant to him when he was taken in by a foster family whose natural son was Storm Davis, later to become an Orioles pitcher, now with the Kansas City Royals. Glen tells of the importance of establishing a relationship with a child who might be skeptical of such ties, then moving from there to changing the kid's outlook on life.
A woman who had already raised her eight children talks of the daily joys of taking care of a little girl with spina bifida, the simple joys of teaching and helping.
A nurse who was content with her six children tells of the day that another nurse at her hospital told her of an abandoned infant who had tested positive for the AIDS antibody.
"It was love at first sight," the nurse's husband says of the day his wife brought the baby home. Later, tests showed that though the antibody was in the baby's system, the AIDS virus was not. They've adopted that toddler and have taken another HIV-positive baby into their home.
"Desperately Seeking Parents" does not pretend to be an objective look at the state's foster care system, warts and all. It would have been stronger if it showed something of the interaction between the families and the bureaucracy -- and if it included a sentence that explained why it was necessary to electronically disguise the identity of some of the kids. As you might guess from its title, this is essentially a recruiting film for a system that needs more than a few good men and women to look after the many kids who need care.
Following the half-hour documentary, MPT will have a half-hour panel discussion. Hosted by Dave Durian, who narrates "Desperately Seeking Parents," the aim of the discussion is to inform prospective parents about the nuts and bolts of the foster care system.
Panelists will include Brenda L. Edwards, president of the year-old Maryland League of Foster Parents, Steve Howe of the state Social Services Administration and Patricia Vorus, who recruits foster parents in Montgomery County.
They will discuss matters such as the requirements for becoming a foster parent, what it is like to go through a home study to determine your family's fitness for taking in a foster child, the training that you get before and during foster care and the demographic profile of kids needing foster families. Interested people will be encouraged to call an 800 number for more information.
"Desperately Seeking Parents" delivers one of those messages that might be a cliche but still rings with resonant truth -- the rewards that you get from giving of yourself to another human being in need are more lasting and meaningful than most you will receive during your life.