Past

Foster parenting has a long history, relying in earliest times on extended family and community, then churches and charities, and finally public child welfare agencies backed by law and federal funding. But until the 1970s—well over a century after New York minister Charles Loring Brace started the modern foster parenting movement by moving needy inner-city children west to families with more space—foster parents had virtually no rights in their vital role in the lives of abused and neglected children.

The National Foster Parent Association was formed in 1971-72 with the primary agenda of providing training required for foster parent certification, but it was also a forum for networking among foster parents, lawmakers, social service professionals, and agencies that would strengthen the position of foster parents and help them advocate for themselves and the children in their care. At that time foster parents were automatically disqualified as potential adoptive parents for the children they fostered, and they had no voice in pertinent law and policy.

When the national association was organized, there was no statewide South Carolina body to provide local infrastructure, advocacy, and education, though Aiken and Orangeburg counties had county associations. Carl and Mary Brown, who began fostering in 1974 and were active in the national association, realized at once that South Carolina needed the organization for foster parenting that was bearing fruit through the national association. With strong backing from DSS, the couple and friends networked across the state to make this happen. In October 1975, as chairman of the steering committee for the incipient South Carolina Foster Parent Association, Carl Brown invited all county directors and their staff to a meeting in Columbia to ratify a proposed constitution and by-laws for the organization. The gathering was a resounding success, and the SCFPA was launched.

Present

From the start, the South Carolina Foster Parent Association has served as infrastructure and support for the state’s foster parents. County and county-cluster Foster Parent Associations have their own elected officials and DSS liaisons. Local presidents convene quarterly with SCFPA staff to further effective communication on training, pertinent legislation, and other issues. SCFPA also publishes a newsletter periodically, maintains a Facebook page and Twitter accounts, and offers ongoing training at county association meetings and an annual training conference.

“Foster parenting is a journey,” says long-time foster parent Deborah McCall. “The demands are large, and to have a support there, a foundation of people who understand the issues, really helps in this journey, this unique way of parenting.” Caroline Ward, whose little girl Gabrielle, one of adopted twins, died from initially undiagnosed birth defects, notes that without the support of the SCFPA and the Lexington County association, her family could not have provided a proper funeral for their daughter. “Every time I count my blessings,” she says, “they are part of those blessings. . . . They went all-out.”

Much has changed for the better, locally and nationally: foster parents are now eligible to be considered as adoptive parents for children they foster; they have a voice on the agency and legal levels. With increasing DSS funding and growing support from the agency, the state association addresses a number of crucial areas for foster parenting and foster children, including the following:

Training has been a major focus for the SCFPA. Between January 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2013, we documented training attendance at over 22,000 participants for recertification training sessions. In addition, between December 2011 and December 2013 we provided Preservice training to 2,217 potential foster and adoptive parents. There has been a concerted effort since training became more formalized in 2007 to bring community partners into foster parent training. Our current collaborators in this endeavor are state agencies DSS and DAODAS; the Foster Care Review Board; the Guardian ad Litem program; University of South Carolina’s Center for Child and Family Studies, Center for Health Sciences and Policy, and the Children’s Law Center; Children Unlimited; the Children’s Trust Fund of South Carolina; Pro Parents of South Carolina; Palmetto Health Special Care Center; and the Pediatric Team Center, Baptist Easley. Our training is open not only to foster parents but also to licensing and other state agency workers, Guardian ad Litem volunteers, group home staff, Foster Care Review Board members, kinship care providers, and anyone else who can benefit from it.

In recent years there has been a major focus on educational issues for foster children and on helping them prepare to age out of care into independence with the underpinnings they will need for successful adulthood. SCFPA has participated in an education subcommittee studying legal and practical questions affecting foster children in the state's schools. The SCFPA has held hundreds of showers for adolescents and young adults who were aging out of care and has provided gifts and basic necessities to them for setting up housekeeping and beginning their new lives. Benefiting foster adolescents in college, there is the SACK (Sponsor a College Kid) program, through which churches or individuals fill sacks with toiletries, school supplies, and other needed items that DSS funds cannot cover. These are sent to college students all around the state.

Another outstanding program to help foster teens in the Independent Living program is On the Road Again, a collaboration between SCFPA and car donors to provide automobiles for youth who will be aging out of care and are presently in school or employed. Since the inception of this program in June 2009, 60 cars have been given to deserving teens and we have cars awaiting requests. Smart Summers, Strong Kids is an initiative resulting from a 2009 state-wide needs assessment among foster parents that identified help with summer programs as these parents’ number-one concern. The program started in 2010. By early 2014 it had helped foster kids across a wide age range to enjoy 94 beneficial extracurricular activities.

Future

Specific goals shift to meet evolving needs. The basics remain the same, however, as the SCFPA continues to provide support, infrastructure, training, and advocacy for foster children and families across South Carolina, across the years. As wise voices have noted, it takes a community to raise a child. Our greatest hope is that we can continue to play a vital role in supporting our resource families and helping to prepare South Carolina’s foster children for a happy, productive future.





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