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Fostering love in the community

Most husband and wives in their 60’s are planning for retirement and joys of an empty nest filled with visits from grandchildren. One Nicholasville couple still felt they had a lot of love left to give, even with eight grandchildren visiting the four bedroom nest.

Saundra Palmer, 62, and her husband Samuel Wentum, 70, recently became foster parents. The couple met in London, England while Saundra was working toward her Ph.D. in philosophy in educational administration with an emphasis in student affairs. She moved to Jessamine County in 2013, and her husband later followed.

Samuel is a retired journalist and Saundra works as an office manager, receptionist and assistant at Bluegrass Family Vision in Nicholasville.

Between the two, the couple has six biological children eight grandchildren as well as step-grandchildren.

Saundra said she enjoys helping others, especially children who have endured hardships, due to her own childhood. When she was 6-months-old, Saundra’s grandmother took her in and raised her because her mom was a single parent who needed the help.

She worked in education for most of her adult life, which took her to several places all over the world, including London and areas in the Middle East.

“I’ve always had a passion to work with children who I felt like was disadvantaged in regard to parenting and family structure,” Saundra said.

When she came home from the Middle East four years ago, she took a job with Stewart Home School in Frankfort as a house parent who helped take care of children with disabilities.

“It was the most challenging, stressful but rewarding experience of my life,” Saundra said.

When her husband moved to Kentucky from London two years ago to live with her, Saundra had to quit her job where she said she made a positive impact on the lives of a variety of children.

After she began working at Bluegrass Family Vision, she still felt the strong desire to help children in need, so she decided to become a foster parent.

“I thought ‘well, why don’t we become foster parents and share our home and see if we can help change the lives of some of these children like my life was changed’,” Saundra said.

She said she already possessed many of the skills needed to be a foster parent, one of the most important ones being the innate ability to love.

The couple began the process to become foster parents in August last year through KVC Kentucky — a private nonprofit organization that provides in-home and community based therapeutic services through various programs, including a foster care program — and they were finally certified in January.

“It is a long, tedious, time-consuming process because you have to go through a lot of classes,” she said.

Saundra said they had a preference for sibling groups, in order to prevent children from being separated.

About four weeks ago, they took in their first foster child.

“I can see already the impact that my family and I have played in their life already,” Saundra said.

She said the newest addition to the family is treated no different than her own grandchildren, and they often play together.

“We’re enjoying it and it’s going really, really well,” Saundra said.

To the foster child, Saundra is known as “grandmother” and Samuel is “papaw.”  

Saundra said being a foster parent, like any other parenting, takes a lot of time, and once the foster parent status is achieved through various classes, it must be maintained through a recertification process each year.

She said one of the biggest challenges of fostering the child is trying to reassure and comfort them when they are clearly missing their mother.

“The child really suffers a lot being torn away from their home,” Saundra said.

Though it takes a lot of time and effort, Saundra encourages people who can afford it and are up to the challenge to become a foster parent.

“I think it’s very easy to love your blood, people who are a part of you,” Saundra said. “But it’s different when you have to reach out and love someone else, and I think it changes your life. It makes you more humble.”

In Kentucky, there are 8,084 children in and out of foster care with an average age of 9.8 years, according to the Kentucky Department for Community-Based Services. There are 1,774 children with a goal of adoption and 855 are legally free to adopt while 355 children do not have identified families at this time.

To put that number into perspective, it is close to the over 8,000 students enrolled in the Jessamine County School system.

These children vary in age, race and needs, and at times they come in groups of siblings.

Around 75 percent of them are able to return home when their birth families or relatives can provide appropriate care for them, according to DCBS.

“We need more foster families with that goal in mind, it’s going to be inevitable that they’re going to go back to their home, their birth home,” said Steve White — a foster parent recruiter with KVC. “And how important is that for a child? You’re removed for just a moment, but then having this nurturing, helpful arm of a foster family to be reunified back into what they’ve been accustomed to, and then there’s improvement in that home, and that is all centered upon ‘my improvement is because I love my child.’”

In Jessamine County, 45 children have been removed from their homes this year and are now in foster care. Sixteen of them have the goal to be adopted, according to DCBS

Children may be removed from their homes for various reasons, including drug and alcohol abuse, as well as parents being mentally incapable of caring for them.

White said the recent drug epidemic has caused children in foster care to spike because drugs and alcohol abuse have become the most common reason children are removed from homes. 

“I think that if we were able to get a handle on the dependency of drugs and trafficking of drugs and that sort of thing, if we could get a handle on that, then I would think that our child welfare system will start to even out,” White said.

These children need a consistent and loving presence that foster families can provide.

To become a foster parent several agencies in the area offer classes. Some may charge a fee, while others are free.

Classes offered by KVC are free of charge and include CPR and First Aid training. 

White said the process to become a foster parent can take two to three months.

KVC offers a class once a week for 10 weeks that provides foster parents the tools to nurture children who have suffered traumas such as being removed from their homes.

Once the class is over, KVC also conducts a home study to ensure the child is going to a safe and welcoming home.

“We really want to make sure everyone knows what they’re getting into,” said Lydia Akin, a clinical and foster care supervisor who has worked with KVC for over a decade.

The program also offers long-term support for foster families.

All God’s Children — A non-profit that has been operating in Jessamine County for 18 years — is another agency that provides a foster care program, as well as a residential facility for at-risk teens who are either already mothering or expecting.

AGC’s foster care program allows their residents, along with their children, to transition into a foster home within the community.

The program provides initial training certification, 24/7 staff on call, a monthly reimbursement of expenses, ongoing training support and foster parent support groups.

Currently, All God’s Children has around 18 foster families in the county. 

Foster family training is hosted once every three months.

Classes — which are a combination of classroom and online coursework — are catered per family and can take around eight weeks. 

“We tailor the program to what fits for them,” said the director of the AGC’s foster care program Kathryn Maupin.

The classes and the CPR training required for foster parenting are free through All God’s Children — which is currently the only foster care office located in Jessamine County.

Families who are interested can contact either Maupin or recruitment and certification coordinator, Kendall Keefe, at 859-553-1582. An application to the program can be found on ACG’s website at Kyallgodschildren.gov. Maupin said there will be classes this summer.

Those who are not ready to become foster parents, but still wish to help, can do so by donating money, time or items such as backpacks, luggage or clothes to local foster care agencies.

On Saturday, May 27, The Wilmore Family Center will host an adoption fair that will have seven different foster care agencies attending to provide information. 

For more information on KVC visit http://bit.ly/2pjT2eV. For more information on All God’s Children visit http://bit.ly/2q2bSG8.