Far too often, headlines are showing stories about children who live in homes that are too broken for them to be considered safe, and are consequentially removed from their house and their families. In March of 2017, a total of 604 children under the age of eighteen were living in foster homes in Gwinnett County alone. The conditions that lead children to be placed into the foster care system are unsafe, neglectful, and in some cases, abusive.
Despite this, many believe that there is still hope for these families. In a random poll of forty adults, twenty-five voted that the parents of children who have been placed into the foster care system deserve the chance to be rehabilitated and reunited with their child.
“Our last placement that we got was a 22 month old, blonde haired, blue eyed girl named Emma. When she came to us she was scared and quiet,” said foster parent Holly Ballantine. Emma is one of over twenty children that the Ballantines have provided a home for since they became a foster family. However, Emma was not the only one they took into their family at that time.
“We fell just as in love with her mom as we were with her, and we made them both a part of our family,” said Ballantine. Emma’s birth-mother, Crystal, decided to set her sight on recovery, and once she had started down that path, she never looked back. The Ballantine’s encouraged her to work her case-plan, and do what was necessary to get back custody of her daughter. It was a long journey, but after living in a foster home for over eighteen months, Emma was returned to live with her mom.
Even after her daughter was returned to her care, Crystal maintained a good relationship with the Ballantines. Emma has gone to stay with her former foster family several times after she was released from the foster care system, and the mother-daughter pair will be spending Christmas with them this year. Ballantine works with Families 4 Families, doing trainings for other foster families. Crystal now dedicates much of her time to helping Ballantine with these trainings in order to teach foster families how to guide birth parents to reach the kind of success that she has had.
Emma and Crystal’s story is not a unique one. According to childwelfare.gov, fifty-one percent of children leaving the foster care system are reunited with their parents. Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement in which a family cares for a child while the child’s parents get themselves to a place where they are able to care for their child.
Families 4 Families, a local nonprofit organization committed to connecting hurting families to their communities, was founded to help piece broken families back together. Families 4 Families offers many ways for people to get involved and help families in their communities. If someone is not in a place where they can take on the responsibilities of a foster family, there are many ways in which he or she can volunteer in simple but helpful ways, such as babysitting for a foster family, delivering them a hot meal, helping provide christmas for a foster child, or generally supporting them in their responsibilities.
For anyone who has been considering fostering or adopting, Families 4 Families is here to help with the process. “I would tell [future foster parents] to keep an open mind to whom they are willing to work with, whether it be children or their parents. So many of these birth parents are just one encouraging friend away from being successful. I would tell them that being a foster parent is one of the most selfless things that you can ever do. That risking your own heart so that a child gets all the gain from being loved is worth it every time,” said Ballantine.