Health and Family Services Cabinet
Foster Families Honored for Service; 16 couples and parents from across the state recognized at Frankfort ceremony
FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 26, 2006) – In the 12 years Gene and Shellie Blair have been foster parents, they’ve helped raise 28 foster children.
Some of them returned safely to their birth families or went on to live with relatives. Some moved on to other permanent homes. And three helped make the Blair’s Erlanger home a full house when the couple adopted them.
The Blairs’ birth daughter, Kayla, 14, has been joined by sister Ashley,11, and brothers Hunter, 9, and Isiah, 2, whose adoption was finalized this March.
“Our lives have changed as a result of foster care,” Shellie said. “If we had just had our birth daughter, our lives wouldn’t be as full as they are now.”
The Blairs are one of 16 foster families to receive an Excellence in Service Award at a reception today from the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet, the agency that manages the state foster care system.
Governor Ernie Fletcher has proclaimed May Foster Care Month in Kentucky. At the reception, the parents, representing each of the cabinet’s 16 service regions, were commended for their dedication and commitment in caring for hundreds of foster children.
The Kentucky Foster Care Excellence in Service Awards were established in 1999. Selection criteria include initiative, advocacy, self-sufficiency, interest, flexibility and creativity in their foster caregiving.
“These parents help not only the foster children they welcome into their homes, but they also may serve as role models to birth families and mentors to other foster parents,” said Eugene Foster, Ed.D., the cabinet’s undersecretary for children and family services. “And with their recommendations, we have improved the foster care system overall, giving parents the resources they need to help families and children in transition.”
One change will be an increase in reimbursements to foster parents. They will get $3 more a day, beginning in July 2007. Lawmakers approved the boost during the 2006 General Assembly as part of the state’s two-year budget.
There are 2,309 approved active DCBS foster/adoptive homes. In 2005, 568 foster/adoptive homes were approved, an increase of 75 homes from the previous year. DCBS regions have made diligent recruitment a priority in an effort to provide homes for foster children close to their own communities, which results in the least possible disruption to the children involved.
More than 6,000 Kentucky children are in out-of-home care because of abandonment, abuse or neglect, substance abuse or many other reasons that make their homes unsafe. Foster parents provide a safe haven for these children until they can safely return home or become adopted.
Families interested in becoming foster parents within the Cabinet’s DCBS must pass several background checks, complete 30 hours of training and undergo home visits to ensure their home and lifestyle are safe and suitable for children. Homes are approved for both foster care and adoption, though many families choose one or the other.
The Blairs learned about fostering through a family in their church group, Shellie said. “We thought it was one way we could serve the community. We never intended to adopt. We just took things slowly, and we ended up with lots of kids.”
Since Isiah’s adoption, the Blairs have closed their home to foster children. Over the years, they have offered their home to “mostly infant children,” Shellie said. They increased their level of certification according to the needs of the children placed with them.
“We really evolved as a family through foster care,” she said. “It opened our eyes to the needs of the community.” About the same time they were approved to foster in 1994, Gene Blair left his family’s property management business to become a full-time minister. He now leads the congregation at Cornerstone Church of God in Erlanger. After home-schooling their girls for several years, Shellie is now a special education teaching assistant for Kenton County Public Schools.
The couple’s church hosts the area’s monthly foster parent support network meetings, and they co-lead the cabinet’s pre-service and ongoing training for foster and adoptive parents.
While the Blairs worked hard to preserve their foster children’s ties with birth families, Shellie said saying goodbye to the children was never easy. And as mentors to those becoming parents, Shellie said the Blairs try to impart that lesson.
As a foster parent, “you have to be patient and flexible with the children, and you have to be willing to have your heart broken,” Shellie said. “But it is all worth it if their families turn out to be healthier in the end.”
Learn more about foster parenting by calling (800) 232-KIDS or logging onto http://chfs.ky.gov/dcbs/dpp/out_of_home_care.htm.
A list of foster parents to be honored follows.
2006 Kentucky Cabinet for Heath and Family Services
Excellence in Service Award winners
Barren River Region, Warren County: Morris and Veronica Jackson
Big Sandy Region, Floyd County: Roxie Bowling and Linda Stevens
Bluegrass Fayette Region, Fayette County: Marilyn and Gary Harp
Bluegrass Rural Region, Clark County: Linna Ann and Gary Coyle
Cumberland Valley Region, Whitley County: James and Peggy Sergent
FIVCO Region, Boyd County: Paul and Karen Groves
Gateway/Buffalo Trace Region, Lewis County: Arnold and Judy Howell
Jefferson Region, Jefferson County: Steve and Linda Faye Hawkins
Green River Region, Webster County: James Matthew and Christie McVay
KIPDA Rural Region, Shelby County: William and Heather C. Richardson
Kentucky River Region, Letcher County: Mary K. Bennett
Lake Cumberland Region, McCreary County: Donald and Sylvia Stephens
Lincoln Trail Region, Hardin County: Dorothy Headspeth
Northern Kentucky Region, Kenton County: Gene and Shellie Blair
Pennyrile Region, Todd County: Marceline Johnson
Purchase Region, Carlisle County: Lemuel and Wakendra Gourley
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