ZEBULON — Annie Horton started with a teenaged girl who was assigned usher duty at church every time she ran away.
Kim Ferrell’s third go-around as a foster parent included a young boy who couldn’t speak English. Ferrell’s second foster child was Marissa Ferrell. Shortly after Marissa Ferrell arrived to her home, Kim Ferrell adopted her.
That was 10 years ago.
Horton and Kim Ferrell shared their experiences as part of panel to kick off the Eastern Regional Center’s year-long effort to recruit 50 more foster families to serve the eastern area’s 62 foster children.
Thursday night’s panel was meant to give interested parents and families a glimpse into what it really means to be a foster parent.
“I think you’re an answer to a prayer but it’s a prayer (foster children) didn’t even know they had,” said Wake County judge Monica Bousman, who hears cases and determines if children need to be put under the county’s care. “It’s not easy. Fostering is not for sissies.”
The East Regional Center needs foster parents with diverse racial backgrounds, families willing to take teenagers, children with disabilities as well as groups of siblings.
Of the 62 foster children in eastern Wake County, 37 children are black, 20 are white, two are Hispanic and three are identified as other.
Several county employees, including Child Welfare Division Director Warren Ludwig, who is also a doctor, said the easiest transition for children is to try to keep them geographically close to their families.
“It is a lot easier for those children if they can be be close to home,” Ludwig said.
The effort to recruit more foster families is not county-wide.
In Wake County, there are 207 licensed foster homes.
According to Sherrod Gresham, supervisor of Wake County Human Services Family Foster Care Unit, there are usually between 600 and 650 foster children in the county at any given time.
Right now, it is not uncommon for a child to be sent to another part of the county and in some cases, some may have to be placed outside of Wake County, said Darryl Blevins, director of the Eastern Regional Center.
Foster care, as officials emphasized, is only meant to be temporary until a family can be reunited.
“All you have to do is love”
Most of the program focused on a more anecdotal understanding of foster care, like some of the challenges parents may face when taking on a new child.
It may seem like a counter-productive recruitment strategy, but Bousman said it’s important to remind parents what they could be dealing with.
“Children must be taken where they are — they’re not always a baby,” she said. “They are not going to come to you with no baggage.”
Mandated training is meant to help foster parents deal with any issues they may encounter with foster children but the foster parents who participated in the panel said the most important tool parents can be armed with is an open heart.
“All you have to do is love these children,” Horton said. She’s been a foster parent for 20 years and said she gets several Mother’s Day calls from the children who have come and gone from her home.
Kim Ferrell became Marissa Ferrell’s foster mom 10 years ago, when Marissa Ferrell arrived in Apex with her biological mother from New York when she was 4 years old.
Kim Ferrell adopted her shortly after that, something that happens fairly frequently when families can’t be reunited, Blevins said.
“These kids ... are a work in progress,” Kim Ferrell said. “If you can find some room in your hear, you can make room in your home.”
Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews