Ads look locally for foster parents

$25,000 grant to be used for Web site encouraging fostering and adoption

November 26, 2006|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Special to The Sun

At first, Ilene Shaheed's decision to become an adoptive parent was as much about filling a personal need as improving a child's life. Her youngest was in college. She felt lonely in her suddenly empty nest.

By the time the infant girl she adopted turned 6, she was ready for another child. This time, she chose to foster two little girls.

Then another. And another. In all, Shaheed, of Pasadena, has fostered at least three dozen children - she's lost count - over the past 25 years.

One of Shaheed's foster children is among the success stories featured in a radio spot the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services will launch in coming weeks as part of an ambitious recruiting campaign.

Through radio and television ads and a new Web site featuring information for prospective foster parents, the department hopes to encourage more Anne Arundel County residents to become foster and adoptive parents.

Of the 275 children in Anne Arundel County's foster care system, 171 had to be placed in homes outside the county because too few local people have come forward to help, social services officials said at a news conference Monday.

Most of the children come from Annapolis and Glen Burnie, officials said. Yet of the 95 children who have found foster homes in the county, only 11 are in Glen Burnie and 13 are in Annapolis.

"Taking the children out of their homes is already traumatic enough for many of these children," said Marcia Kennai, director of the county Department of Social Services. "To take them away from the schools they attended, the friends they've made, that's not good for them. They need a sense of stability, a sense of home."

The county department receives money every year from the state Department of Human Resources earmarked for marketing. But marketing efforts in the past were largely scattered. Money was used for advertising in the mall one year, for an informational picnic at Kurtz's Beach in another year and to buy giveaways like magnets and buttons for annual appearances at community fairs.

This year, the local office has decided to use much of the state's $25,000 grant to set up a Web site, something officials hope will be a more permanent way to reach prospective foster and adoptive parents than a one-time ad in the mall or appearances at community fairs.

The Web site, www.annearundelfostercare.com, offers general information on how to become a foster parent, and describes the required training and screening process. Forms to sign up for more information also will be posted online.

A password-protected section of the Web site will help foster parents get in touch with one another, share ideas and learn new ways to help their foster children. There will also be a chat-room-like forum for foster children.

New foster parent Cathy Moore of Lothian is excited about the recruiting campaign. She and her husband welcomed their first foster child 10 months ago, and she said she's eager to use the Web site to meet other foster parents and exchange ideas. She knows she's not alone in the challenge she faces with 6-year-old Kayla.

Kayla's family was homeless when Moore became her foster parent. It was her second time in the foster care system because her mother struggles with mental illness. Kayla, though she was the youngest in her family, got used to being the nurturer, caring for her two brothers and mother, Moore says.

That behavior has transferred to school, where Kayla sometimes gets into trouble because she tries to wrest control from her teacher.

"She's 6 going on 16. She's used to running things," Moore says.

New foster parents like Moore are rare. Moore was an easy draw to the foster care program because she was already doing charitable work with children, teaching Sunday school and working with incarcerated youths.

But in most cases, the recruiting campaign faces an uphill battle. Veteran foster parents like Shaheed say it takes most families a year or two to decide to foster or adopt because it's not easy allowing someone new into your home. The campaign will have tough work ahead to make the community less wary of fostering or adopting children from troubled homes, Shaheed says.

"I've had a night here and there where I had to go out after one of the kids who was drinking and driving, or using [drugs]," said Shaheed, 60. "But that's just one night. The 364 others are great, very rewarding. The good always outweighs the bad."

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