"Best thing we ever did," say Youngstown foster-care parents

MCCS seeks more caring parents

By William K. Alcorn



Toni Saccomen acknowledged that her husband, Earl Saccomen Jr., had to push her into becoming a foster parent.

Now, four years and several foster children later, two of whom they have adopted, both wonder why they waited so long to become foster parents.

“It’s the best thing we ever did,” said Earl, known as “J.R.”

“It is phenomenal,” Toni added.

The Saccomens encouraged other people — singles, couples, grandparents — who might be thinking about becoming foster parents to attend a Mahoning County Children Services pre-service class for prospective foster parents and learn what it is all about.

Toni, 51, said Earl, 54, had wanted to become a foster parent for several years.

“I kept saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ Finally, to appease him, I agreed to go to the 12-week pre-training where I fell in love with the idea and the whole program,” she said.

“We got licensed on a Friday, and on the following Monday, got a call to provide respite for another foster-care home. That just shows the great need,” she said.

In Mahoning County, foster parents are licensed by MCCS, which requires a thorough background and home check. The licensing process takes about six months.

The first step is the pre-service class, said Anthony Paris, program administrator for children services’ placement services department.

The next pre-service class is scheduled to start Monday. Those interested should call Peggy Messer at 330-941-8888, or go online at mahoningkids.com and click on “Adoption and Foster Care.”

Earl, who is retired on disability and a stay-at-home dad, explained his

motivation to become a foster parent.

“Our [biological] twin girls, Brittany and Megan, were getting ready to leave the house, and I’d always wanted a boy,” said Earl, an avid Notre Dame football fan.

Now they have adopted two children out of foster care, Kevin, 4, and Jayden, 2; have two foster children, girls 6 and 1, and Brittany and Megan, 24, have come back home.

“We have grown out of our home,” said Toni, an intake specialist with the Mahoning County Child Support Enforcement Agency.

“All these kids need are love and discipline. When you give them a hug and tuck them in at night, that’s what it’s all about. Once you get these kids into your home, the experience is incredible,” she said.

“The most amazing part to me, they didn’t have any idea about sitting together at the table to have dinner and talk about what happened that day,” Toni added.

She credited her and Earl’s parents with teaching them the values and the way to love as a family should growing up in the Smoky Hollow area of Youngstown.

Toni’s parents are the late James and Margaret Veneroso. Earl’s parents are Shirley Saccomen of Youngstown and the late Earl Saccomen Sr.

“We had a great upbringing, and we’re trying to pass it on,” said Toni.

She said one of the biggest concerns people have about becoming foster parents is “letting go” when the children are returned to their families.

“We have let three foster children go, and it was difficult for the whole family. But you don’t have time to grieve because as one goes out, another is coming in,” Toni said.

In training, they talk about foster children coming and going.

“Until a child leaves, you don’t get the true feeling. But, as long as you maintain contact and see how they are doing, you find yourself being a support system to the biological parents.

“I’m a mother and a wife, not a social worker. But all the kids need is a supportive family. These kids do change in your home. It moves your heart,” Toni said.

“People need to understand that as foster parents, they will probably not get perfect kids. That’s not how it is; but you just have to deal with it,” Earl said.

“When Kevin came to us, he was 22 months, and we were his sixth home,” Toni said.

She said foster parents are not left out there on their own.

Not only do the Saccomens have help from Brittany and Megan and other family members, they have invaluable support from MCCS, D&E Counseling, Help Me Grow and other social-service agencies.

“I credit the MCCS case managers first and foremost. We have called them for help at all hours,” Toni said.

Another advantage is the extended families gained through foster care.

There are the agency employees, other foster-care parents and the families of the children in foster care.

“Some of the family members are resentful, but I just tell family members I am not here to take your child. I’m here to keep your child until you are ready to get them back,” she said.

The primary goal is to reunite children with their families, Paris said.

“The best place for children is with their families whenever possible. It can be extended families, called kinship placements,” he said.

Paris said the Children Services agency, which has about 180 children in placement at all levels, including foster-care homes, group homes for boys and girls and residential-placement center, wants to increase the pool of foster homes, currently at 70, to 85 or 90.

He said additional homes would make it easier to place siblings in the same home, keep them in the community close to their families, eliminate barriers to visitation and keep them in their schools.

Generally, the county’s juvenile court gives temporary custody of children to MCCS, during which time they are placed in foster care for a stable, nurturing environment, while families work to correct the problems that brought their children to foster care in the first place, Paris said.

“We work very hard to get the kids out of the system,” he said.

In the interim, there are folks such as the Saccomens, who have found their calling.

“When they smile and call you ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ you just melt. It’s what keeps us going,” Earl said.

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