May 6, 2009
Program fosters caring family
Couple adopts three teens after giving them foster care
LITTLE YORK — Cliff and Rae Hall have a desire to bring stability to the lives of foster children they parent.
The couple has created a permanent home for a sibling group of three teenagers.
The Halls adopted the teens in January after having fostered them for almost two years. The Halls have been married five years and decided to be foster parents because they could not have children of their own.
The Cortland County Legislature recognized the Halls on April 23 as part of National Foster Care Month in May.
For the Halls, adopting the children they had fostered was the natural progression since the siblings “clicked” with them.
“They were the right kids,” Rae said as she sat in her living room Monday night with her husband beside her and several teenagers sprawled on the couch behind her.
“They are good kids and they needed us. They deserve us,” Rae said, and Cliff added, “and we deserve them.”
The setting out the window of their waterfront property on Little York Lake shows gray-blue water lapping gently against water slides that are just one source of summer activity for the athletic children. The serenity of the lake is a stark contrast to the upheaval in the lives of the children that have stayed with the Halls over the years.
They have had children ranging in age from 6 to 17 and lasting in duration from one hour; a girl who ran away immediately (she was later found by the Sheriff’s Department), to over a year; a boy who was successfully reunited with his family.
Fostering teens was the right fit for the Hall household.
“They are self-sufficient and we both work full time,” Rae said of the advantages of having older children.
The Halls have two foster children in their home in addition to their three adopted children. Each child is expected to be respectful, communicative of problems, try their best in school and do chores such as laundry and shopping.
Jennifer Hammond, senior caseworker at the county’s Department of Social Services, said the Halls are a success story within the foster care system.
“Here are people who haven’t parented their own children and then ‘bam’ it worked,” Hammond said.
There are 42 certified foster homes in the county. On any given day there are about 100 children in these homes and there are about 70 to 80 new foster children throughout the year, Hammond said. Children may come to foster care because of abuse or neglect, because a school has labeled them ‘ungovernable,’ or because of voluntary surrender on the part of the parent.
Hammond said there is a great need for foster homes within the county, in particular families who are willing to take teens since babies and young children are easily placed.
From the moment a child is placed in a foster home, their caseworker works closely with the foster family, the child and the child’s biological family to plan for the ultimate reunification of the child with their family.
Successful reunification with the family is the ultimate goal of the foster care program. A permanent home for the child within 15 months of placement is mandated by state law. In some cases this may require an independent living situation or a structured juvenile facility like the William George Agency in Freeville.
The Halls said about 97 percent of their foster children were ultimately successfully reunited with their families. But the road toward reunification is not always a smooth one.
The Halls remember fistfights between the children, broken belongings, a child who opted out of being adopted by them at the last minute, and above all heartbreak.
With tears in her eyes, Rae pointed to artwork given to her from a foster child who recently left their home and Cliff carried a clay penguin to the table, a gift from another foster child.
“Pretty much all of them gave us a hug when they left,” Cliff said quietly.
The ultimate departure is something that the parents are prepared for from day one, through a Model Approach to Partnership through Parenting certification course that is mandated by the county.
Kristen Monroe, commissioner of the county Social Services Department, said the emotional toll on the foster parents can be great.
“One of the biggest challenges is that we are asking them to love with everything you have and then let go. How to make the best of that loss is all part of the training” Monroe said.
The 30-hour course is offered for 10 weeks in the spring and fall. Hammond said the class is valuable in helping parents make an informed decision about whether foster parenting is right for them.
“It is the most difficult, meaningful role they are going to have and the class runs the gamut of things that could happen anytime in the life of a case,” Hammond said.
A challenge parents have to be ready to face is that their lives will be open to scrutiny from all angles. Background checks are required and their homes are constantly open to caseworkers and site inspections.
But overall, the Halls say the experience has been a highly rewarding one and one that has changed them for the better.
“The focus isn’t on us, it’s all on the kids now,” Rae said. “It’s not ‘you’ anymore, it becomes ‘we’ and ‘us’ and better.”
Foster parents must be at least 21 years old, have adequate housing income, be willing to work with DSS and the community on behalf of the child and be in good physical health. The department certifies single parents, about a quarter of those currently certified are single parents. Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster parent may contact Hammond at 607-756-3434.
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