By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — Being a foster parent can be challenging, but it has its rewards.
"We're doing outreach, trying to raise awareness about the need for foster parents, and a safe and stable home for foster care," said Carmen Grimmett, licensing specialist recruiter for Lutheran Child and Family Services. "We need people to step up and help us with this."
The agency received 242 referrals in Jefferson County for foster children this year, and serves 40,000 individuals annually with foster care, counseling and residential youth programs.
LCFS believes children do their best when they have strong families, preferably their birth families. However, when this is not possible, a stable relative, foster or adoptive family is found.
"The need right now is for the different types of children we serve: traditional children, specialized children and we have an adolescent foster care program and we also have a Regenerations program. Our greatest need lies with the older age — from adolescents age through teenage years (about age 11 to 18) and our specialized behavior children," Grimmett said.
That is where people like Cindy Welch, a foster parent, is helpful to the organization.
Welch is in the process of being a legal guardian for a 17-year-old male in Mt. Vernon. Welch has provided foster care for the youth for about one year. Welch has been a foster parent — for different organizations — since 1983.
"I started out being a foster parent through a half-sister who I took in at age 23. All the kids from my dad's second marriage were placed into foster care. So I took in my half-sister," Welch said.
"I had her for 1 1/2 years until she was place into another adoptive home. I quit for awhile before returning in 1989 because I wanted to adopt, and I've been doing it since then," she added.
Welch, who is a substitute teacher's aid for District 80 Schools, was motivated to become a foster parent after overcoming a bumpy childhood.
"I wanted to help children. It's come from that environment," Welch said. "I've seen so many kids that they don't have a chance, or a second chance."
Welch operated a business, Given Hope Resale Shop, which allowed her to interact with youth who came from abusive backgrounds.
"I did that about 5 1/2 years, and I was going to college and taking child care classes. I just started reaching out, offering foster care, working in the school, and helping with kids at church, so that's basically been my whole life — working with and trying to help kids," she said. Welch attends Grace Community Church, and frequently drives the church van, taking youth to and from services.
"I think it takes more than just one person to help these kids. The community needs to pull together to help these kids," Welch said. "The best feeling is just knowing that you've helped changed their lives, maybe you can makes things better for them so they can enjoy their childhood."
Those interested in foster care can contact Lutheran Child and Family Services, who conducts informational meetings to prospective foster parents. All prospective foster parents are required to participate in a training seminar and a home study.
"It's a simple process for the most part," said Grimmett. "The whole process takes about 3- to 6-months."
Those interested in foster care may call 800-363-5237 or visit the organization's web site at www.lcfs.org.