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Foster mother touches lives of 20-plus hurting children

EDITORS’ NOTE: The names of all foster children in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

FORESTDALE, Ala. (BP)–Timothy loves to show off his bunk bed, where he has now “graduated” to the top bunk, leaving the bottom bunk open for his electronic race car track. After playing cars for a few minutes, he bounces over to his desk to play with his Buzz Lightyear(tm) doll, then to the dart board and eventually back to the racetrack. He swings on the bunk bed like a monkey and hops to the top bunk in one motion to grab his cowboy hat and play with his pop gun.
“Mommy, I just shot the water pump,” Timothy screams, followed by a series of giggles.
For 5-year-old Timothy, life is full of all kinds of adventures. But it has only recently been so joyful. Until a few years ago, Timothy had only known a life of abuse and neglect. His occasional nightmares of being trapped in a hole and having food thrown down to him hint at some of the trauma he experienced.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources put Timothy and his brother into separate foster homes nearly three years ago. Just recently, state courts took away the biological family’s rights to the two boys and allowed DHR to put them up for adoption.
Although Timothy has had his ups and downs with his foster mother in the last two and a half years, Francis Robinson said he will probably be the toughest one to see go.
“I’d adopt him if I could, but he so desires a male role model that I know it is best for him to have a dad,” Robinson, of Forestdale, said. A single woman and member of Hillview Baptist Church, Robinson has been a foster mother for the last six years and has had more than 20 children come through her house and pass through her life.
“The day Timothy came, I had decided by that night I couldn’t handle him,” Robinson said. Timothy is considered ADH — attention disorder with hyperactivity — and Robinson’s home was the fifth home in two weeks he had been placed in after being taken away from his mother and father.
“When I put Timothy to bed, I reached down to kiss him goodnight. He put his hands up to his face and said, ‘Please don’t hit me.’ I knew right then I was going to keep him.
“We decided to stick it out together, didn’t we?” Robinson said, looking toward Timothy as he examined a recent cut on his knee underneath a bandage. Admitting Timothy’s behavior is not nearly as good all the time as it is with company, Robinson said it is hard to give up the children she is temporary mother to, especially if they go back to a situation she is not comfortable with.
DHR’s policy is to return a child to his or her biological family when possible. Parents go through counseling and often detoxification to measure up as fit parents. If they are unable to make necessary progress, the courts allow the children to be eligible for adoption.
In Timothy’s case, the court extended the typical six-month grace period for his parents to shape up to more than two years before realizing such changes were not going to materialize.
“Two and a half years is way too long,” said Cindy Huddleston, director of foster care services for United Way of Central Alabama. DHR sometimes contracts through United Way’s foster-care program to place children from Jefferson County in a foster home.
Huddleston is in charge of 26 foster homes, which currently house 22 children for her to follow up on, make court appearances for, take to the doctor and be their friend. “I just love every one of these kids,” she said, adding she and her fiance, Rick Deerman, plan to be foster parents.
Huddleston chose to become a social worker because of an experience she had while working in a local day-care center. Two twin girls often came in looking as though they had been mistreated.
She reported the case to DHR several times. Eventually the twin girls were placed in foster care after the girls were discovered handcuffed to a bed.
“I told myself I would never stand by and let that kind of thing happen again,” Huddleston said.
Robinson is also currently the foster mother for an 18-month-old African American boy who was born addicted to crack cocaine. Marcus is permanently hooked up to an oxygen tank, and Robinson said it has been three weeks since they’ve had an emergency room run. “Knock on wood,” she said, noting she typically goes once a month with Marcus. “They know his name there.”
In spite of some of the heartache that naturally accompanies being a foster parent for children who come from such dismal backgrounds, Robinson said watching the kids’ learn and grow is an unmatchable experience.
“There are times I’ve wanted to pull my hair out, or pull theirs out, but I’ve had a lot of fun,” Robinson said. One of the greatest joys, she said, is watching her foster children learn about God.
When Hillview Baptist presented a passion play at Easter, there was a scene where Jesus healed a dying little girl. Robinson said Timothy immediately yelled out, “Mom, quick take Marcus down there!”
“Of course everybody near us cried when they heard that,” Robinson said.
It takes a lot of patience and knowing one’s limits as a parent to be a foster mother, she acknowledged. Being a foster parent reaps only about $8 a day from child-placing organizations.
“You don’t do it for the money,” Robinson said. Yet the need for foster parents grows daily since the number of abused and neglected children seems to grow, Huddleston noted.
Robinson now kisses Timothy goodnight without him being afraid. And though she will miss him when he is placed in a permanent home, she still prays alongside Timothy for his “forever mommy and daddy.”

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  • Laurie A. Lattimore