Foster parents give and find love
The nationwide heroin epidemic has not left Baltimore unscathed. Drug-addicted parents who can no longer care for their children have led to an increasing number of kids who need a secure, stable and loving home environment — a home provided by foster moms like Janis Oglesby.
Oglesby, who lives in Baltimore County and is “past 65,” has been a treatment foster care parent with the Woodbourne Center for the past 12 years. Treatment foster care utilizes foster parents who have been specially trained to work with children who have significant emotional, behavioral or medical needs.
The Woodbourne Center provides individualized psychiatric residential treatment for boys, as well as a treatment foster care program for emotionally disturbed boys and girls from birth to 21.
Treatment foster parents are trained and provided ongoing workshops after they are carefully matched with a child to ensure a positive and successful placement. Children are referred to the foster care program through local departments of social services and local departments of juvenile services.
Currently, Woodbourne has 35 youth in its foster program. “Some kids only stay briefly,” said foster care social worker Katherine Heinz, “often ending up needing a higher level of care, such as a hospital.
“Some kids come and go. Others go home or to a family member. And one was adopted this year by his foster parent,” she said.
Heinz added that there are various foster care programs throughout the state. Each county in Maryland, as well as Baltimore City, has its own foster care program. But most of these do not have therapeutic or treatment foster programs.
Treatment programs are often specialized, with some placing children who are medically fragile, mentally limited, etc. Woodbourne specializes in youth with emotional/behavioral issues.
Prospective foster parents in Maryland can choose among the different agencies they would like to foster with, perhaps based on location or on types of youth served. In 2015, there were 3,913 youngsters in foster care throughout the state of Maryland, according to Kids Count Data Center.
Lots of love to share
Oglesby, a retired teacher with five grown children of her own, was looking to fill the “big vacuum” left when her husband died. Since she began fostering, Oglesby has cared for more than 20 children, many of whom had no other home.
“These children have been in such hurtful situations,” said Oglesby. “When they first come to me, they don’t know me, and I don’t know them. They just need a place to stay, food, and someone to trust. In time, they’ll tell me their pain.…I’m a good listener.”
Despite the tragic circumstances most of these children have gone through, Oglesby said she can reach almost all of them. “They’re little human beings, just looking for love and security,” she said. “Even if they don’t trust you, they respond to love.”
They certainly seem to respond to Oglesby, as she proudly recounts that most of the boys continue to touch base with her long after they have left.
“They always come back,” she said. “Sometimes they want to visit, or see how I am, or show me they’ve become a success. And sometimes they just want a hug.”
Though Oglesby becomes attached to the youngsters, when it’s time for one to leave, she feels satisfied that she has helped set him on the right path and looks forward to the next child. “There’s always another child who needs me more,” she said.
Having younger children around also helps her stay young and gives her a sense of purpose, Oglesby said. “As you get older and are not out there in the career world anymore, you need something to help you contribute to the world. Being a foster mom makes me feel useful and satisfied.”
“Every child has different needs,” said Heinz, the social worker. “But I think the most important thing foster parents do is help children learn to develop relationships, and hopefully repair some of the trauma that they have been through.
“We hope that children will make lifetime connections with their foster parents so that, even after they move out, they have someone to reach out to, or at the very least have a memory or some learning that they took away from the foster home,” Heinz said.
Helping challenging children
Lorraine Carter is another of Woodbourne’s foster parents. The 61-year-old Randallstown resident, who retired from her secretarial position with the Baltimore County Police Department in 2011, began fostering in 1995.
Foster and her husband, Robert, not only wanted to help children, but wanted to give their daughter a “sister,” since their two sons had each other as playmates.
Since then, the Carters have had approximately 20 foster children, one staying for almost four years. The children come with “a lot of baggage,” said Carter, from neglect, to physical and sexual abuse.
“They can be challenging,” Carter admitted. Many are defiant — especially the teenagers — and some run away and then return. But the rewards far outweigh the difficulties for Carter.
“To see these children blossom,” she said, her voice trailing off, before recounting the story of one young girl who had had a series of unsuccessful foster placements because she was so difficult to handle.
“But our souls met,” said Carter. “I was the one who was able to keep her.”
There is no specific personality that makes a good foster parent, according to Heinz. “You have to be willing to hang in there with a kid, and go through the tough things together,” she said.
You also need to be able to “see the positive in the child, and remind others of it when they are frustrated. And to be willing to work with a team of people to achieve the best possible outcome for the child.”
What you need most to be a successful foster parent, according to Carter, is love. “I love children, and I love what I do.”
For more information about becoming a foster parent through Woodbourne Center, call Katherine Heinz at (410) 433-1000, ext. 4130, or visit www.nexus-yfs.org.
To learn about foster care throughout the state of Maryland, visit http://dhr.maryland.gov/foster-care or call (800) 925-4434.