Give a Child a Future...See How Far They'll Go
Give a Child a Future...See How Far They'll Go
by Jennifer LB Leese
The origins of juvenile justice in Maryland can be traced back hundreds of years to early colonial times when children were jailed along with their parents when their only "crime" may have been homelessness. It was thought that those who would not "pull themselves up by their boot straps" (become self-sufficient) should go to work houses or jail - this would teach them a lesson, they thought.
Sadly a child's view of the world can seem merciless, unforgiving, and dangerous - almost like the world is out to get them.
You can help make their world merciful, forgiving, and safe - just by opening your home to them. When you become a foster parent, you are not only fostering a child's growth and happiness, you are fostering a brighter tomorrow full of opportunity.
Children of all ages deserve this kind of future. The Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) is a State agency that provides care and supervision for delinquent youth and youth with behavior problems, such as chronic running away, truancy, and curfew violations.
Right now in Maryland, hundreds of teenagers need foster care. Some need foster care for a few days. Others need it for months, maybe even years. But all of them need a dedicated, caring, and structured environment to help them see and strive for the future they deserve.
"The role of today's Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) stems from the nineteenth century when Maryland first established institutions to reform delinquent youth. In 1830, the State adopted the radical policy of separating juvenile delinquents from adult criminals. The Legislature passed "An Act to Establish A House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents" creating for the first time an authority to provide troubled children with homes, education, and job training.
"Between 1850 and 1882, Maryland built four facilities for young people. These four "reform schools" were governed by private boards and segregated by race and sex. All four were eventually organized as training schools and brought under one central administration.
"In the 1920s, mission of one of the Maryland reform schools was "to educate and reform boys who are committed as street beggars, vagrants, incorrigible, criminal or who are placed here by parents, guardians or friends." Fortunately, much has changed. Children are no longer committed to juvenile detention facilities because they are poor; they are not segregated by skin color; nor can they be dropped off by a parent or friend.
"Over the years, Maryland has significantly changed the way it cares for troubled youth. During the 1960s, the State's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene organized the Juvenile Services Administration (JSA) to administer all schools, youth detention centers, forestry camps, and probation/aftercare programs. In 1987, JSA became an independent agency, and by 1989, was restructured as a "cabinet-level" department." (Maryland Department of Juvenile Services)
Juvenile justice has evolved greatly and Melissa Rice, foster care coordinator, is someone who is fighting for them. But with only ONE foster parent established in the Washington County area, this tends to be a challenge.
Rice needs your help to get these kids into homes. "We need to get the word out. We have many kids waiting for beds," she said. "They may still be in their home, they may be in a shelter care facility or in a detention facility." The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services generally places youth between the ages of 10-18. They are "looking for qualified people who want to make a difference."
"It is not easy to be a Foster Parent. The approval process can be long... Caring for a troubled youth can be difficult . . . It requires an emotional investment. For people who are up to the challenge though, providing stability, authority and care for a youth is tremendously rewarding." (Maryland Department of Juvenile Services)
Unlike foster care through local social service agencies, "these kids are not up for adoption". Rice said these children are referred to DJS because "they were, for some reason, removed from their home and it was then decided that foster care was the best placement for them."
Washington County needs foster parents. DJS' main focus is to keep these kids local so they can attend the same school, be with their friends, play on the same sports teams, etc. During their time in foster care, these kids are attending therapy sessions, sometimes with their families, sometimes without - depending on their situation.
Teenagers are our future. They are our future teachers, parents, and leaders. But they cannot become a successful adult without stability and guidance as a younger child. Teenagers need someone to listen, to encourage, and applause. They need you.
Melissa Rice is available just about any time of the day. She will send you an information packet, which she'll even come to our house and help you fill out the forms. It will seem somewhat lengthy, but this is due to the duplicates and sometimes triplicates that are enclosed. "I'll even put them in contact with the foster parent if you would like," Rice said.
Nancy Castle is THE foster parent. She became a foster parent with DJS in 1990. She has seen many teens grow and become successful adults.
"Everyone seems to want the babies," Castle said sighing. "I have had one boy for 3 years. He is at the age where he will be going off on his own. He's ready to start college. I am helping him prepare for that time. I have had another boy for 3 months."
As an important requirement, Nancy's husband is supportive. "He enjoys working with the boys too," she told me. She believes that to be a good foster parent "they gotta have a good reason for doing it. They gotta have it in their hearts because they need to help these kids. You can't do it for any other reason than that." She also said that the benefits of being a foster parent to teenagers is that "you are helping them as you watch them grow. You can watch them go from nothing in school to honor roll to going through sports to getting their license and owning their own car... One child I had now owns his own business."
Nancy doesn't understand why there aren't more foster parents in Washington County. "Maybe it's because the kids are older and everyone is looking for the little innocent babies. The big guys are easy to work with too," she said. She is proud and believes that most of these kids are thankful and appreciative to the fact that they have a home with rules. "They need normal." Nancy still keeps in touch with most of the children she fostered. She says she will be a foster parent for as long as she can physically do it.
"A foster parent can be a single parent... they don't have to be married as long as they can provide the support and structure that a teenager needs," said Melissa Rice. "There are different types of foster care: shelter foster care where you're keeping a child for anywhere from one to thirty days until basically they receive their next court appearance. There's long-term foster care where you keep the child anywhere from 3 months to several years. And there's respite care where a foster parent can give another foster parent a break.
If you would like to open your home and heart to one or more of these kids, Maryland law requires the following steps in order to become certified as a Foster Parent.
1- Request and complete a foster parent application packet.
2- Once you complete the application, an employee, possibly Melissa Rice, will meet you for an interview and home visit.
3- Your references are checked and a background investigation is conducted.
4- Your doctor certifies that your family has no medical problems that would adversely affect a youth.
5- A fire and health inspection is made of your home and copies of your homeowners or rental insurance policies are obtained.
"In exchange for this commitment of energy, emotion and effort, Foster Parents receive training and support from the Department, a monthly stipend and are insured by the State for property damage, loss or personal injury. In order to prevent people from taking advantage of this compensation, one or both of the foster parents must have additional income from sources other than the stipend." (DJS)
Help get these kids back on track! Call Melissa Rice today at 240-420-1734.