WESTMINSTER — Social service workers say foster parents in Carroll soon will confront a new and grave responsibility -- caring for babies infected withthe HIV virus, which causes AIDS.
Agencies must make preparationsto deal with these children before the infants land on their doorsteps," said Nancy Birkmeyer, foster-care resource developer with the county.
"No HIV-infected infants are in the county (foster-care system) now, but we can't close our eyes to the fact that the time will come when we have to place them in willing homes," said Birkmeyer. "We already have a drug-infected infant in foster care."
Angela Rave, a state training coordinator, offers a free six-hour workshop to prepare foster parents to care for HIV-infected and drug-dependent infants. She spoke to about 20 members of the Foster Parents Association of Carroll County Thursday to gauge interest in the program.
"We want toidentify and train people, who will care for these children," she said. "With the right information, they can decide before accepting a child into their home."
As Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome spreads, she said, no level of society will escape the fatal disease.
"It's no longer their problem," she said of the most at-risk groups, which include homosexuals and intravenous drug users. "It's ours, too.
During the training, Rave stresses precautions to protect both infants and parents, which "involve cleanliness and common sense."
"Basically, as long as a parent's contact remains casual -- not dealing with blood or semen -- there is no danger of transferal," said Larry Leitch, deputy health officer for the county.
Children whose immune systems are suppressed by the virus must be protected from common illnesses. A cold or chicken pox can be deadly, said Rave.
"(Infected) infants who get good care from the beginning have a better chance," said Rave. "The sooner a child is identified, the sooner treatment can begin."
One association member offered her own experience to allay fears about caring for infected infants. Joan (not her real name) has cared for several infants who tested positive for the humanimmunodeficiency virus at birth, she said, and knows all the precautions to use.
"If an infected child is bleeding, you put on gloves first, then clean up," she said.
Joan also said there is reason tohope.
"Only about 30 percent of infants born with the virus develop AIDS," she said. "After about 15 months, a mother's antibodies leave the infant and a lot of babies shed the virus."
Before Joan, a certified foster parent, moved here from New Jersey nearly a year ago, she told the Department of Social Services she was qualified, experienced and willing to care for an HIV-infected infant.
She was told no children with AIDS lived here.
"Where am I -- on a different planet?" she said she asked in disbelief.
Through an agency outside the county, two HIV-infected babies were placed in Joan's home here. She now cares for them along with her own three children.
Eve Ferguson of Westminster said the hourlong session just "touched on" theproblem. A foster mother for four years, she said she has faced manychallenges. She wondered as she left the meeting whether she could deal with one more and care for an AIDS baby.
"I hope the good Lordwould give me the strength," she said.