In the 22 years that psychologist Merrill White has been a foster parent, she has had 91 children in her home.
She has also suffered some broken bones.
“Many times we are assaulted in our own homes by the children that we are sworn to protect,” said White, president of the Foster Parent Association of DeKalb County, Ga. Inc.
“Our lives are different from yours because we do not go to a comfortable sleep at night,” White said during a recent meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners. “We retire with the knowledge that at 11 p.m. or at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., we can receive a call.
“When children in DeKalb County are verbally abused, they come to us,” said White, who has two adopted children and three foster children. “When they are hit, kicked, burned, have broken bones and are physically abused in other ways, they come to us.
“When they are sexually abused in the most horrific ways, from infant to teens, they come to us,” White said. “When children are abandoned, they come to us.
“Many children are brought to us with only the clothes on their back,” she said. “They may be hungry, screaming, fighting, angry, cursing and more.”
Approximately 30 to 50 percent of foster children are placed in special education classes because of learning disabilities or emotional disturbances, White said. They have higher absenteeism and perform lower on standardized tests than non-foster students.
The Foster Parent Association of DeKalb County “seeks to turn these statistics around,” White said.
The DeKalb group, which is 18 years old, has 25 paying members. Its aim is to support foster and adoptive parents and their children.
“In times of emergency or crisis, we are someone to call when you need someone to talk to or need someone to keep your children while you run out on an emergency,” White said.
The group also is also an advocate for foster parents.
“When foster parents have to go to hearings, we will actually attend hearings and meetings with them to offer support and just to be with them,” White said. “Our purpose is to keep foster parent homes open—the foster parents who are actually complying with state law.”
White said she gets three to four calls a day from parents who have some concerns, many of which arise after a home check by the state Division of Family and Children Services case managers, who routinely monitor the homes of foster parents.
Case managers “may not see a situation the way the foster parent sees it,” White said. “We are reported sometimes. Sometimes there are reports against foster parents that have to be investigated. That is a regular process.”
In addition to supporting foster parents, the group runs At Work, a program in which children ages 5-12 run their own businesses. Currently, the participants are growing plants from seeds and selling them at various events. The funds are used to support mentorship program.
“We are trying to teach them what to do with money and teach them some responsibility,” White said.
Another group Teenwise, allows students ages 13-18 to mentor younger children.
In DeKalb County, there are 123 foster homes and 576 children in foster care, White said.
“There are more foster parents needed,” White said. “Some of the foster children are having to be sent out of the county because we actually cannot accommodate them.”
According to the DFCS website, Georgia has more than 7,000 children in foster care at any given time.
White said the biggest need of the Foster Parent Association of DeKalb County is office space.
“We need to get our own office so that we can have space enough to provide some of the programs that we [offer],” White said. White runs the organization out of her Lithonia home.
“Wherever the president lives, that’s where the office is,” White said. “We really do not have office space.”