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Foster care offers hope and healing

 Edwin Searcy gets help tracing his hand from Donna Jones, a foster care social worker.
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Date published: 2/9/2013



Jean Craig sat at a party Thursday night with a stack of photo albums, their contents showing a fairly typical family life: Christmas trees surrounded by gifts, children dressed in costumes and carrying trick-or-treat bags, kids hamming it up for the camera with Mickey Mouse at Disney World.

And there were school portraits--so, so many pictures of children in front of fake backgrounds.

But the photo albums tell only half of Craig's family story. Not pictured, but also part of their memories: School suspensions, holes punched in walls, fires deliberately set, arrest reports.

In the past 20 years, Jean and her husband, Harold, have welcomed more than 300 children onto their Hartwood farm as foster parents for UMFS, an agency that helps find families for the most challenging foster children.

Some stayed overnight, as a break for their exhausted foster parents. Some stayed a week. Some a year or more. And one became a permanent part of the Craig family, getting adopted eight years ago.

Jean shared the highs and lows of her years as a foster mom during a reunion held Thursday evening at the UMFS office in Fredericksburg.

A handful of families came to the reunion to share their stories and talk about the joys and challenges of therapeutic foster care, which is for youths with the most challenging behaviors. Some have disabilities. Some have mental illness. Just about all of them have deep emotional scars.

"Foster care is hard. But it's healing, it's hopeful. Sometimes it's heartbreaking. But it really does make a difference," said Tammy Franges, the agency's resource parent liaison and a foster parent.

Foster care supervisor Jean Hepburn told the group that the evening was all about celebrating the dedication of foster parents.

But she also wanted to plead for help.

The agency has plenty of youths needing homes--with more than 5,000 foster children in Virginia, there's never a shortage of kids needing a family. But the agency needs more families willing to take on these challenging cases.

So Hepburn asked the families who've already been in the fray to tell their stories to other parents, anyone who might be interested in foster care.

Keisha Elliott said she'd recommend foster parenting to anyone, although it wasn't always easy. Her family adopted four children from foster care.

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United Methodist Family Services is looking for people who are interested in foster care.

At a party for foster families Thursday night, Tammy Franges--the agency's resource parent liaison and a foster parent--said that foster parents have just two commonalities: a love of children and a desire to make a difference.

If you have those traits and would like to learn more, call 540/898-1773 or go to umfs.org.

The party took place in the agency's training room, where posters gave information about child protective services, finding a match and intake procedures. But one poster simply read, "You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent."