Every month in Louisiana, hundreds of children are taken away from their parents and put into foster care. Approximately 400,000 children in the United States are in foster care at any given time, with more than 100,000 of them available to be adopted, according to AdoptUSKids, a part of the US Children’s Bureau that provides tools and technical assistance to help child welfare systems.
The dire need for foster parents continues to rise, which is why Ascension resident Courtney Dumas and her spouse have decided to tackle the emotional task head on.
Dumas and her spouse began the process early last year and were notified of their acceptance in August, right after the flood hit. A few hours after she was accepted she received a phone call asking if they wanted to foster two children, a brother and sister from Ascension Parish. Immediately the pair said yes and began their first journey into foster parenting.
Though the process has been one of the most rewarding for the couple, it has also been one of the hardest experiences they have ever been through, as at any time the children could be taken back to their parents.
"It's not an easy experience, it's the hardest thing I have ever done by far because you are trained in these classes to care for these children, but to realize that you're just a place where they are stopping through," said the Gonzales Middle sixth grade teacher. "The ultimate goal is for them to go back with their parents. Emotionally you are supposed to love them 110 percent, but you also know that one day they are not going to be there anymore."
Dumas and her sixth grade students recently participated in Together We Rise, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the lives of foster children by providing resources through community partners. Being that the organization hits very close to home for her, and many of the children in her class, they immediately began thinking of ways to help other foster children.
"When it comes to teaching the most relevant thing you can do with your kids is talk about real life experiences. When you're passionate about something, they get passionate about something too. It hit very close to them too."
Twelve of her students stayed one day after school and painted numerous bags, stuffed with items such as a teddy bear, coloring book and a hygiene kit, to be given to foster children when they are taken from their homes. The purpose of the bags is to give children something they can put their belongings in once they are removed from their home. Often at time children are rushed and have to throw everything in a garbage bag.
"It's such a traumatic experience, the removal from the home, or even just moving from place to place. It's just to know not only is someone helping you move your things, but someone is thinking of you."
Though fostering is not an easy task, Dumas wants to encourage other families to take the leap and help other children in need. She said many people are afraid of fostering because of the unknown and of the rough cases broadcasted, but it is not always like that.
"If you give a kid enough love you can literally change anything, I really believe that. It's not this big, scary monster, you still have control, you still can say hey this isn't a right fit for my home."