Last year, Mahoning County Children Services needed to place 167 children in foster care because of abuse or neglect in the home.
They had 50 homes in which to place these children.
"We need foster homes so bad right now," says Lynn Slaina, Community Education Specialist for MCCS. "If we could double the number of placement homes..." The thought puts a smile on her face.
Listening to Lynn's dream for the placement of abused and neglected children, I become curious about foster parents.
A love for children
What kind of people become foster parents?
What I learned is that foster parents are people, just like you and me -- with, perhaps, an extra, special measure of love for children.
"We had a burden for kids," says Wendy Gongaware of Canfield.
Wendy and her husband, Gary, began fostering children nearly 14 years ago. Throughout those years, the Gongaware's have shared their home with 45 foster children.
"45 children!" I say to myself. I have trouble remembering the correct names of my four children.
Wendy remembers all 45. A bit of her heart is with each one.
"We still keep in contact with our very first foster child," Wendy shares. "He spends a week with us every summer."
"We hear a lot of stories about foster children bringing their children back to see their foster parents," says Beth Lenzi, a social worker for MCCS.
The bond that is established between small, scared children and the people who give them love and security is never broken.
Loren and Kathy Grossman have been foster parents for three years. In that time, 18 children have lived in their home.
"We both really love kids," says Kathy. "We realized the need." Then she adds, "What we do is from the heart."
Most recently, the Grossmans have fostered three siblings. After nearly a year in their home, the children have been returned to their family.
That is the second question I wonder about fostering -- How do you let go?
It is, perhaps, the most troubling aspect of becoming a foster parent; knowing the child(ren) that you have laughed with and cried with, held and reprimanded, will eventually leave.
These foster parents express the difficulty in parting with foster children.
What their words cannot express, however, is the sense of peace and comfort in their souls, knowing that they have provided a child a safe haven in their time of greatest need.
"It can be very difficult," says Wendy. "Depending on how long we had them and the involvement of their parents."
Wendy admits sleeping with the quilt of one child after he had left. "We brought him home from the hospital," she says. "You go through a grief process."
Loren and Kathy echo Wendy's sentiments. "Most of our kids have gone back with blood relatives," says Loren. "That makes it easier."
"We give them extra hugs and kisses before they leave," Kathy says.
Both the Gongawares and Grossmans have adopted foster children.
Wendy and Gary had two children of their own. In their years of fostering, they have adopted three.
Loren and Kathy adopted the first child they fostered.
"We do the whole thing by grace," Wendy says. "The Lord gave us the burden and He gives us the grace to do it."
"Our only regret is that we didn't start fostering sooner," says Kathy.
"They're remarkable," says Betsy Braham, a social worker for MCCS. "Every single one of them."
"I was on emergency call one weekend," Lynn Slaina recalls. "Usually we have four names of families to call to place children in an emergency. That weekend, I only had one name."
MCCS is looking for more remarkable families -- perhaps one like yours...
XFor more information about becoming a foster parent, call MCCS at (330) 783-0411