In search of homes for troubled kids


Rosalind Ginyard has noticed troubling changes in the foster care system over the past 20 years: The problems are more severe and the children are younger.

Ginyard, program manager for KidsPeace, a national not-for-profit organization helping children in crisis, wants to see more foster parents and fewer kids shuffled around the system.

She's working to do that. KidsPeace National Centers for Kids Overcoming Crisis opened a foster care placement agency in Columbia last month.

The office, which serves the Baltimore-Washington area, places children with problems caused by disaster, personal trauma, neglect, depression and eating disorders.

These are the hardest children to place, and they are in need of a stable environment, Ginyard says.

The office, after receiving information from the Department of Social Services, tries to make a match with prospective parents.

"We're willing to work with the more difficult children," said Ginyard. "There always seem to be more children than parents. It's a hard job. We try to give the foster parent a true picture."

The foster parents-to-be, married couples and single parents, aren't signing up for any child. KidsPeace concentrates on kids in trouble: runaways, substance abusers, pregnant teens. Often, they are depressed, feel rejected and act out.

Sometimes they wonder why they were removed from their homes and families.

Ginyard said, "These are children suffering for something they had nothing to do with."

Once a match is made, the KidsPeace staff works with the foster parents, natural parents, social worker and counselor to alleviate the child's problems.

This sort of foster care, which includes treatment, involves the foster parents in the healing process.

"We have treatment foster care programs like this in seven states ... and still growing," Ginyard said. She says another office is needed for the Prince George's County and Washington areas.

Range of programs

Nationally, KidsPeace operates a range of programs for children in crisis: prevention services, 24-hour help line, parent education, after-school activities and a hospital. This is the first office to open in Maryland.

Foster parent applicants go through an in-depth screening process, which includes a home study, social history, physical exam and criminal background check.

Foster parents are also required to complete 30 hours of training, dealing with issues such as separation, grief, loss and attachment.

Like the dozen or so gathered at a recent session - "Understanding Emotional Disturbances and Behavior Disorders" - Mary Mcleaurin is ready to be a mom again. The youth of her church gravitate to her, and when her grandkids come to visit, they don't want to leave.

Mcleaurin figures she must be doing something right. That's why she and her husband, Jerry, want to be foster parents.

Every Tuesday, the couple travels from Baltimore to attend the training sessions. Each week, the sounds of tae kwon do come from the adjoining room in the Oakland Industrial Park Center. Attendees giggle at the "huh!" and "hiyas," but the topics being discussed in the conference room are anything but lighthearted.

Serious issues

The recent agenda included emotional disturbances, disruptive behavior disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bulimia, anorexia, autism and mental retardation.

"Don't be afraid to bring up suicide," said Jennifer Gray, the center's family consultant.

The session, a crash course in child psychology, combines personal experience, pop culture and diagnostic definitions.

Parents learn that anorexics enjoy cooking for others, and they'll eat as little as a quarter of an M&M.; Discussion of the Karen Carpenter TV movie helps them understand bulimia; "Rain Man" does the same for autism.

"You place kids with autism?" asks a parent.

"These are children you can still work with in your home," Ginyard tells the group. The sessions teach them to understand and to advocate for their children, especially in the school system.

Almost full

Weeks after the grand opening, the center is almost at full capacity, according to Ginyard. She expects to work with 40 children this year.

Caseloads are kept low because these children require more attention.

"It amazes me. ... A lot of these people have already raised their own children," said Ginyard.

But Mcleaurin knows exactly why she's there. "There's so many children in need," she said.

Parents know they are part of a team. "You can always call any one of us," says Elizabeth Dzradzinski, program development specialist. The office, with a five-member staff, is on call 24 hours a day.

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