North Carolina's First and Only Foster Community
Over the last two decades, Southmountain Children and Family Services has become known as an innovator of quality programs and has led the way for new designs in residential settings, collaborative efforts, and changes in service provision. The most amazing of these efforts has been the creation of the State’s first and only “Foster Community.”
The idea behind the Foster Community was to improve the quality of life for children in care by providing the positive aspects of group care in a traditional family foster care setting. In essence, we created a “hybrid” of the two traditional models, which allows our foster children to experience the best of both.
Why Did We Create a Foster Community?
In the early and mid 1990s, Southmountain constructed eight new group homes on our “main site” near Nebo, NC. The homes were designed to look like normal family residences in a neighborhood setting. In addition, we constructed:
- a neighborhood gymnasium;
• ceramics and woodworking shops;
• an indoor swimming pool;
• outdoor recreation facilities including an alpine climbing tower;
• playground and picnic areas;
• walking trails, and,
• places for families to enjoy time together.
By establishing this new idea of neighborhood-style care, we were also able to retain many attributes of group care such as:
- the availability to provide care for sibling groups;
• more acceptance of cultural and spiritual diversity;
• the availability to care for “hard to manage” or “difficult to place” children and adolescents;
• remedial education programs;
• recreation and self-esteem building programs;
• the availability of doctors, dentists, clinicians and other necessary professionals willing to treat foster children; and,
• immediate support for the children and/or their caregivers in times of crisis.
WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR A FOSTER COMMUNITY?
Foster care in any setting is a tough, demanding, a self-sacrificial, and expensive proposition. In fact, research shows that over 50% of foster families quit fostering in their first year. National studies have identified a lack of support, too few resources, and difficulty dealing with the children they are expected to care for as the main reasons foster parents quit. One such report, a study by the Office of the Inspector General (which can be viewed at https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-00-00600.pdf)
was verified by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) who, based on this report, made significant recommendations to aid in the retention of foster parents. Many of these suggestions are accomplished through the unique aspect of creating our foster community.
The creation of our unique Foster Community allows us to provide all of the benefits associated with group care in homes that feel and operate identical to typical foster family homes. In addition, the foster community creates a natural setting for families to support one another and for foster children to feel connected with a unique sense of belonging to their community.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FOSTER COMMUNITY CARE?
The greatest benefit of providing foster care in a community setting is the availability of support for foster families. Many of the children placed into foster care have a myriad of problems brought about by physical and sexual abuse and neglect. Often these children present extreme behavior problems that take foster parents to the limit of their training and tolerance very quickly. It is at these times that foster parents need the support of professionals, neighbors, and friends who understand their plight and are trained and willing to help. Additionally, these behaviors are often played out in the community in which the foster family lives causing neighbors to demand that the children be moved.
The foster community of Southmountain makes the support for the families caring for these children readily available. Within the community everyone’s next-door neighbor is a “professional parent” with extensive training and a complete understanding of children in care. Furthermore, supervisors, case managers, clinicians, and other pertinent staff live within minutes of the community and are on-call 24/7.
The parents also receive support from one another with transportation issues, medical/dental/clinical appointments, after-school programs, weekend activities, etc. In fact, the parents have a built-in support group (which in addition to informal support meets weekly for training and coaching) much like that recognized by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as necessary to healthy foster parenting.
Parents receive extensive training in two excellent programs developed by Cornell University. One is Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) which gives them tools to de-escalate situations that might arise with traumatized children. The other is Children and Residential Experiences (C.A.R.E.). This evidence-based model is based on the premise that understanding children's pasts and building relationships with them is far more effective than trying to manage their behavior. Not only does the evidence support this theory but our own experiences with the C.A.R.E. models have proven that it works. You can find more information about the C.A.R.E. model here.
Your support of our children is greatly needed and very much appreciated! Southmountain Children and Family Services is a 501©3 organization whose $5 million dollar budget is met in part by private donations. Your tax-deductible gift helps to ensure that we can successfully meet the needs of the children and families in our care. PLEASE DONATE TODAY!
ARE THE LIVE-IN PARENTS EMPLOYEES OR FOSTER PARENTS?
The parents living in the homes are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long just like typical family foster parents. However. they really aren't legally foster parents. They are full-time employees of the Agency. By employing the parents in this manner, they can spend the majority of their time focusing on the children’s needs, treatment goals, and growth opportunities. For many traditional foster families it is almost impossible to find the time and/or energy to meet all of the demands that caring for today’s foster children creates.
When one considers the number of treatment team and/or child and family team meetings, doctor/dental/clinical appointments, school problems including suspensions and expulsions, court appearances, family visitations, extra-curricular and/or community involvement activities, behavior problems, etc., it is a wonder that any foster parent can keep their jobs, their marriage, their sanity, or their sense of commitment to the children in their care. The foster community concept allows these dedicated, loving parents to be able to provide the care foster children need in a way that supports both them and the children.
Contributions may be sent to:
P.O. Box 3387, Morganton, NC 28680 - 828-584-1105