Foster parents change lives for children

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 26, 2013 at 9:14 PM

Like butterflies emerging from cocoons, children who are traumatized and placed in state custody often go through amazing transformations in the secure and loving homes of foster parents.

In her role as parent recruiter and trainer for Frontier Health’s TRACES Foster Care & Adoption program, Kate Barger has seen the metamorphosis many times.

Foster parenting “has the potential to change you as well as the children and families you help,” she said.

TRACES (Tennessee Regional Alternative Care Environments) places children in state custody who come to Frontier with a variety of emotional and behavioral challenges in therapeutic home settings. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance are a couple of more common issues the children deal with but trauma is the most consistent, Barger said.

“Some of them have been neglected or abused but all of them have suffered trauma, the trauma of being taken away from their family.”

Anita and Doug Lantz of Erwin have been foster parents with the TRACES program since they moved to Tennessee in 2006.

They’ve fostered more than a dozen children and, like Barger, they’ve witnessed many transformations.

The couple has seen a child so terrified of water he feared getting into a bathtub learn to turn flips underwater in a pool. They’ve seen a child so afraid of the dark he hid from them at bedtime grow secure enough to sleep soundly without a night light. And they’ve seen a child who initially recoiled from Doug’s male presence, seek him out for comfort, encouragement and hugs.

Those are the rewards, Anita said.

“When you see a child with no social skills go to good social skills, sit up at the table, share, play, interacting appropriately and understanding other people’s feelings. When you see a child who doesn’t seem capable of trusting anybody come to love you, hug you and tell you you’re a good mom, it touches your heart.”

“You hear a lot of other things too that are not so touching,” Anita said with a knowing laugh. “But I’m not one to focus on the negative.

“There are kids who steal and kids who lie. And teenagers, they feel a little more entitled.

“Kids who have been abused, they lie for survival. It takes a lot of structure and doing things on routine for them to trust that meals will be on time and when something goes wrong the consequences won’t be so harsh that they’re abusive.

“I set boundaries in my home. We work a lot on logical consequences. But love is unconditional. We start every day new and we go on from there.”

“It’s therapeutic care,” Barger said. “And our parents do receive extra training to help children with emotional and behavioral issues heal in a home environment. But the thing I think makes us unique is the tons of support we have here, the team effort and the access we have to child psychiatrists and therapists that makes the delivery pretty seamless.

“Life happens and we’re available to our parents 24/7. We have a tremendous amount of support here.”

Last year, TRACES placed 82 children in therapeutic foster and adoptive homes. The program currently has a pool of about 30 foster parents but because so many parents go on to adopt, Barger said more are always needed.

“It never seems we have enough,” she said. “And the more parents we have, the better we can do matching them to children’s individual needs and personalities.”

“It’s humbling to know there are children out there who have never sat down for a meal with their family. There are children who have never seen things we have right here in our area. And kids in Tennessee (custody), they’re everybody’s kids. They’re our kids.”

For anyone interested in learning more about foster parenting with the TRACES program, Barger said, “It all begins with a phone call.”

“If they’ll call us or if they’ll go to our website, we’ll be glad to talk to them and give them an application if they’d like.”

More information about TRACES can be obtained by calling Barger at 224-1043 and online at www.tracesne.org.

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