DOUBLE SPRINGS - Have you ever seen the “saddest movie ever made?” It is titled “All Mine to Give” (1957) and is based on a novel by Dale Eunson titled, “The Day They Gave the Babies Away” (1946).
The story is based on true events in the life of Robert Eunson and his family, who settled in Wisconsin in 1856. Eventually, the family had six children, the oldest named Bob (or Robbie in the movie). Robert dies of diphtheria, followed by his wife of typhoid. Twelve-year-old Bob, after asking the townspeople to let the family stay together one more day for Christmas, finds homes for his five siblings before going off alone to work at a logging camp.
The movie is often referred to as a “rock test,” meaning if someone watches it without crying, they are a rock. While the Eunson situation dealt more with adoption, there are children who need fostering right here in Winston County, whether it be for a brief time or until adoption occurs.
The questions some children have today are still the same, no matter the century. What will happen to me? Will I see my brothers or sisters again? What will tomorrow bring? Will I have a home? Will I eat tomorrow?
Today, children have to be removed from their homes not because of the death of their parents, but often because of drugs or violence. There is no difference between these children and those in “stable” homes. They still need basic necessities. They still need stable parental figures to guide and teach them right from wrong. Above all, they still need love.
The Winston County Department of Human Resources utilizes foster families for emergency and sometimes long-term placement of children who need a home quickly. They are looking for people to help them foster children, even if it is just for emergency situations overnight.
While not all foster parents are looking to adopt a child, many still go forward with adoption.
“We work with families who are interested in adoption, and we also work with families who care for older kids who may remain in foster care until they become adults,” Kenda Watts, resource worker with the WCDHR, stated.
“If the foster home they are in does not want to adopt for some reason or the other we’ll look for them an adopted home,” DHR Director Diane Watson said.
Winston County DHR held a Christmas party for their foster parents Tuesday, Dec. 5, sponsored by the adult Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in Double Springs. The party was given as a thank you to the county’s foster parents. After supper, Santa showed up to give all the boys and girls presents.
“First Baptist Church does all the food for us, door prizes for foster parents and presents,” Watson said. “We invite (DHR) board members (to the party).”
“Currently, we have six children available for adoption with no identified resource at this time,” Watts mentioned.
Training classes, called Tips, will be available within the next few months for those interested in becoming foster parents.
“We currently have 78 children in foster care throughout our county. Some of these children are fortunate to be placed in the care of a relative or other familiar caretaker, but we have 35 children placed among the 23 currently licensed homes. We need more homes.”
The party was also an occasion to honor two families. Carrol and Sonya Smith have fostered 49 children over the past 10 years. Jamie and Rachel Blanton have fostered 82 children over the past decade.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Rachel described being a foster parent. “But it is a blessing when you get to see them reunite with their parents. It’s a blessing when you get to adopt. You feel like you made a difference. It’s a blessing when you can be a stepping stone for them to get to the next place. It’s emotional for you when they can’t go home.”
Rachel feels it must be earned to be called mom and dad by a foster child.
“That’s a nice title to have,” she added.
“When we first started, we wanted the (younger kids), but as we get older, we can handle the teenagers now,” Rachel said. The ages they have fostered range from 20 days old to 19.
“They can go to 21,” she explained. “The state wants them to be independent.” The state will also help with college tuition.
Rachel encourages those who are fostering to consider adoption, as well.
“It’s satisfying to know you are making a difference,” she said. “These kids have no voice for themselves. You have to be a voice for them.
“For some, not only are they being pulled out of the home they know, they can be pulled out of school, placed with a family they don’t know and have to make new friends at a new school. That’s a lot for a kid to go through.”
Rachel described some of the first children she and her husband fostered.
“They were home schooled. They were 10, 8 and 18 months in age. They had never been in school or disciplined. I remember that first night. I had fixed them plates for dinner. When I sat down, the eight-year-old was licking his plate. I asked him if he wanted seconds. He asked, ‘You’re going to make sure we have food?’ I told him I’d make sure they had food. The things we take for granted, they go to bed worried about, like where are they going to get their next meal. It’s here in our county.”
One of the Blantons’ foster kids was 17 and had never decorated a Christmas tree. The Blantons made sure he got the opportunity the first year he was with them.
“I took pictures of him, just like I would one of the little ones,” Rachel said. “He wrote me a note that night. He thanked us for taking him in so he wouldn’t have to worry where he was going to get his next meal or where he was going to sleep. It’s here, and people don’t realize it.”
Winston County is in need of families to become approved for adopting, due to the higher number of kids needing placement versus the amount of families who are fostering.
“We need people to give emergency care, too, until DHR can find a place for them,” Rachel added. “We need help. If we had more, everyone wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.”
Watching a foster child thrive is a blessing. Rachel shared one such success story - regarding a teenager she and her husband are currently fostering.
“He was in my son’s grade and has been in and out of foster care. I always talk to my biological son and include him in the decisions. When we got a call to take him in, our son said not to take him. I asked him why. He said he was mean, on drugs, alcoholic and had a bad attitude. I asked him if we could take in this young man until they found somewhere else to put him. He said OK.
“It was a complete turn-around the instant we got him. The teachers called us and wanted to know what we had done with him. We didn’t do anything except give him a stable home. He wanted to do better, but just didn’t have the help to do better. He would probably be in jail now. When we took him, he was walking the streets. Now, he’s working, bought himself a truck and is becoming a responsible adult. I’m so proud of him.”
The Blantons are approved for five placements in foster care. They have one biological son and an adopted daughter.
The Smith family began fostering when there was a 12-year-old boy in school who was going to lose his placement in a foster home.
“We just decided we’d take him in,” Carrol said. “We started out with him being the oldest, then we started getting younger children. On Valentine’s night, 2011, we got four brothers: five weeks, under two, under five and 10.” The Smiths fostered the four brothers for two-and-a-half years.
The Smiths have not adopted any children, though they have a daughter who has adopted two.
According to Smith, the ideal situation is to get the kids back to their biological parents, if possible. The minimum a judge orders for a child to be placed in foster care is usually six months.
“If the parents straighten up, then that’s what we shoot for,” Carrol continued. “If the parents get drug tested, are doing what they are supposed to do and are clean, have a job and a good home, the judge will send them back.” Another six months is added if they fail the drug test.
Carrol said fostering has changed his life.
“I’ve worked harder now than I ever have,” he laughed. “But it’s enjoyable. You see them learn. We’re still in contact with about 80 percent of our kids. I’ve got a little girl we received when she was about 12. She went back to her parents in about six months. She’s 19 now and still comes over.
“The homes these kids come from probably don’t have a Christmas,” he added.
For new placements in foster care, the Winston County Foster/Adoptive Parent Association gives $50 toward each child to help with basic necessities, including clothes, according to Rachel. For example, if a child has been taken out of a home due to a drug situation, the child is not able to take any of their clothes.
"We'd like to have enough money in the account to be able to give $100, since $50 won't cover basics,” Rachel said.
Donations to the organization are welcome. They are looking to attain non-profit status so donors can claim it on their taxes.
Churches are also welcome to donate, and some foster children and foster parents both can speak about their situations. For more information on the organization, contact Rachel at 205-269-1747. The address for the organization is P.O. Box 1156, Haleyville, Ala. 35565.
Anyone interested in foster care or adoption can call Watts at 205-489-1526 or check Facebook by searching for Winston County Foster Parent Association. A quarterly meeting of the Winston County DHR board members is held at First Baptist Church in Double Springs.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.