GREENE COUNTY – Greene County has approximately 40 foster families, according Jana Howell, who supervises the foster care unit at Greene County Children’s Services. Of that number, only five live in Fairborn, a city with more than 30,000 people.
“It is one of the largest drawing areas we are currently getting kids from, so it’d be nice to have some foster families in that area because it’s always traumatic to remove kids from their home,” said Gregg Yoxtheimer, a foster care specialist with Greene County Children’s Services. “But when we have to take them out of their school district and their friends and their neighborhood, that does extra damage, so we’re always looking to try to increase in Fairborn.”
One of Fairborn’s foster families, Mike and Patricia Hamilton, said they have their five years of foster care so far, and it has positively affected them as well as their kids.
Patricia grew up in foster care and had good experiences with it. She wanted to be a foster parent and she convinced her husband Mike that it was a good idea. The couple had taken care of some of their nieces and nephews for a short period, and they enjoyed the opportunity to help the children, so the parents of three decided to become foster parents around five years ago.
Patricia said one of the biggest misconceptions about foster children is that they are in foster care because they have done something wrong.
“Just within our neighborhood, a lady a couple houses down, she’s like, ‘you’re the ones that do foster care,’ and you just see this scowl on her face. We have good kids. But the misconception is that they’re bad kids,” she said.
The Hamiltons said their biological children and foster children treat each other as if they were blood relations.
“I think they would defend each other if they had to, but they’ll throw each other under the bus in a red hot second,” Patricia said. “They do that like natural-born siblings, they get along well and they argue well.”
Foster care provides children with “opportunities to experience things that they wouldn’t have normally had have been given to them,” Patricia said. “One of our kids’ favorite food is sushi. I just don’t think that he would have normally been given that choice, and he tried it and loved it.”
Foster parents come in a wide range of ages. Some of Greene County’s best foster parents, Howell said, are empty nesters, but one of the biggest myths about foster care is that one needs to be married and have parenting experience in order to be a foster parent.
“You have to be over 21, you have to be able to provide for yourself and have a stable home,” she said, “but we have single foster parents, we have foster parents that aren’t married, we also have partners, where they’re living in the same home but aren’t married.”
Yoxtheimer, who acts as a liaison between families and the agency, said foster parents often grow in their parenting skills.
“Lots of times we get foster parents and when they first start, they’re very young and naive about how things go,” he said, “and they reach their own milestones, so to speak, and they develop a lot of self-confidence and they develop a lot of techniques.”
This was true for the Hamiltons, according to Yoxtheimer.
“When they were getting into foster care, they didn’t want to take kids older than their biological children,” he said, “and they’ve kind of stepped outside their comfort zone and they’ve done a marvelous job with taking care of older kids, even though they didn’t have any direct parental skills in that area.”
Howell said that in addition to taking care of a child, some foster parents become mentors to the birth parents.
Reunification of the children to their birth parents is the ultimate goal. Howell said that for many foster parents, this is the most difficult part of foster care.
“It’’s a very hard thing to bring that child and to take day-to-day care of them and then when they are reunified, as happy as you are for that child, for them to go home and that their family is safe, it’s also very hard to lose all day-to-day contact and everyday involvement,” she said.
Yoxtheimer added, “I think that’s one thing that’s always hard for folks is that we ask them to love (the kids), take care of them just like their own, and then at some point in time, they have to give them back.”
Although they are not looking forward to this moment, the Hamiltons said they will foster more children once their current ones leave. Their home is crowded right now, housing eight people, but Mike and Patricia do not regret their decision to become foster parents, and they encourage others to do the same.
“I would say there is power in numbers,” Mike said. “The more you have, the more you can accomplish.”
For more information on foster care, contact Greene County Children’s Services at 937-562-6600, or visit them at 601 Ledbetter Road in Xenia.