Opening a child’s eyes to the good of the world can be as simple as opening your home, according to an official for a West Virginia foster care agency.
“To give a kid even one day of attention and care, or having a clean place to sleep is huge,” Pressley Ridge Program Director Chassity Horrocks said. “We have kids who were sleeping outside and kids who were at the homeless shelter. Even one day’s difference is huge. Someone has to be selfless to be a foster parent. It’s not about you. It’s about the child.”
One of Pressley Ridge’s foster parents said her first experience in fostering was with two brothers, a 3-month-old and a 9-year-old.
“My heart sank when I saw them because they had so little,” Angela Wright said. “They were such special kids. The 9-year-old was the main caregiver for the baby in their home before they came to us.”
Wright and her husband got to keep the boys for about a month and a half before they were returned to their mother. Wright said the 9-year-old fought to stay.
“I think one of the most powerful moments with them was when we went to Wal-Mart to buy clothes and things. The 9-year-old turned to me and said we were the best foster parents he’d ever had, and he’d formed that opinion in the short time we’d known him. I nearly lost my composure.”
It can be incredibly emotional to be a foster parent, so it takes a strong person, Wright said.
“Not only that, but you have to be flexible to be a foster parent,” she said. “You can’t take things personal, and what may be incredibly dysfunctional in your eyes, would be perfectly normal to them. You have to put yourself in that child’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.”
When you’ve worked with a child or a few children, you’re bound to get attached, Wright said.
“I do get attached,” she said. “If I didn’t get attached, then I probably didn’t care enough about them in the first place. It’s hard to give them back. Sometimes I don’t think they should go back to their parents. Maybe I want to keep them forever, but it’s about making a difference in a child’s life.
“The children know there’s someone out there who cares and that there’s another way to live. We’re here to shine a light on their situation.”
Most children that come through Pressley Ridge have been affected by drugs in one way or another, Horrocks said. Of the 47 current Pressley Ridge cases, almost every one of them has a substance-abuse connection, she said.
Children who are affected by violence or abuse of any kind come to Pressley Ridge through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
“These kids aren’t the way you see them on TV,” Horrocks said. “These kids have spent hours, maybe a whole day, at the DHHR. They often don’t even have a stitch of clothing. The department sometimes gives us a clothing voucher, but occasionally you get nothing. That’s what these kids are facing.”
Getting a child out of these types of situations is the main concern of the DHHR, according to the agency’s Communications Director Allison Adler.
“Referrals are made to the DHHR by mandated reporters (such as teachers) and anyone with information regarding the health or safety of a child,” Adler said in an email interview. “West Virginia Code allows for children to be removed from their home when they are in imminent danger. ‘Imminent danger to the physical well-being of the child’ means an emergency situation in which the welfare or the life of the child is threatened.
“These conditions may include an emergency situation when there is reasonable cause to believe that any child in the home is or has been sexually-abused or sexually-exploited or experiences any threats to the health, life or safety of a child in any home.”
Adler shared a chart that shows the number of children who have been removed from homes due to drug abuse. The chart starts around 2006 and shows 970 children being removed from drug-addicted homes.
In 2016, that number more than doubled to 2,171 children being affected by drug abuse and being removed from their homes.
Not all children who are removed from their homes end up in foster care, Adler said.
“If a child has been removed and a diligent search has identified a kinship/relative home, then a safety check is completed before the child is placed,” Adler said. “The safety check is completed to determine any safety issues with the placement, and a background check and a check for any criminal charges are performed.
“The house is also viewed to determine if there are any immediate safety issues. The child can then be placed and a referral will be completed for the family to have a complete home study which will lead to the becoming certified foster parents.”
If a relative can’t be found then the child will be sent into a foster care placement, Adler said.
“DHHR works with Mission WV to spread the word about the need for foster and adoptive children in West Virginia,” she said. “Those interested in foster care and adoption opportunities can connect with DHHR on Facebook, Twitter and www.dhrr.wv.gov or contact Mission WV at 866-CALL-MWV.”
Angela Wright said she has been proud to become a foster parent.
“I just wasn’t getting into anything else I’d ever done,” Wright said. “I think God showed me where I am needed and that’s with Pressley Ridge as a foster parent. I just feel complete doing this.
“But you’ve got to be dedicated to be a foster parent. You can’t just sell or give away the child like you would a puppy. You have to commit and be willing to learn. You have to recognize that your way isn’t always the best way and that, just because it worked for your child, doesn’t mean it will work for this child.”
To become a foster parent like Wright, you must have a stable and secure income, be in good physical and mental health, pass a safety inspection for your home, can’t have child abuse reports or a criminal background and you must have the ability to commit to a child.
Families will take part in a training course before they are approved to become foster parents.
For more information about becoming a foster parent or Pressley Ridge, visit www.pressleyridge.org or call 304-252-1106 or 1-800-347-7933.
Cody Neff is a reporter with The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of the Times West Virginian.