TERRE HAUTE —
Kathy Drake never knows when she is going to get a phone call in the middle of the night because a child needs a safe place to stay.
Sometimes the child is a baby, like the 10-day-old now staying with her. Sometimes, she takes in siblings from the same household because their parents are not able to care for the youngsters.
“I might get a call at 3 a.m. and be told that I have a 3-year-old child coming, and I won’t know if they are potty trained or anything,” she said.
“They might arrive with a bag with a few diapers in it and a blanket and that’s it.”
Drake is a foster parent for the Department of Child Services, and in recent years she has been a stable mother-figure to many children going through tough times in their young lives.
“I love it,” she said Friday of her choice to be a temporary mother to many. “It’s definitely a choice, and it’s a blessing for me.”
Drake has already raised her biological children — a daughter and son who are in their late 20s with families of their own — and today they will be celebrating Mother’s Day with her.
On this Mother’s Day, many area children might be thinking of Drake, or their own foster mothers, because of the impact these women have had in their lives.
As a foster mother, Drake is sensitive to the sorrow that some mothers will feel about the holiday because someone else is taking care of their children.
The youngsters Drake cares for have designated visitation times with their parents, and the three in her care now visited last week with their mothers.
“I will have them make something for their mom,” she said of the 9-year-old boy and his young sister that she now fosters. “And, the baby had a visit with his parents, and I made sure he wore an outfit with ‘I love Mommy’ on it.”
Needed: more foster parents
An ongoing need exists for foster parents in Vigo County, as well as most of the state, said Pam Connelly, county director of the Department of Child Services.
“If everybody just took in one child, one time, we’d have enough foster homes for the need we have,” Connelly said recently. It’s a point she said she often makes to groups that she visits as a guest speaker.
When children are removed from a home, the goal is to reunify the family upon resolution of the problem that caused the DCS intervention. Sometimes that problem is drugs or alcohol abuse. Sometimes it is neglect or physical abuse. Sometimes authorities may determine the child’s safety is in danger.
Whatever the reason for the removal, DCS tries to place a child with a family member during the intervention. If that is not possible, a foster family is another option.
Several state agencies work together to provide services to help the parents overcome whatever obstacle caused the intervention and to develop a healthy family for the child.
“We’ve got a lot of parents who have made mistakes,” Drake said, “but that doesn’t mean they are horrible parents. It means they need help.”
Drake said she explains to parents that she is not trying to take over as the children’s mother.
“I tell them, I’m just here to take care of your children until you get them back or until they get adopted,” she said. “Both are a happy feeling to me.”
Drake calls herself a “revolving door” because she is able to accept the foster children, love and nurture them like they are her own, and then release them when the time comes.
“It’s hard for some foster parents to let go,” she acknowledged, but said she went into fostering knowing that she would just be providing a temporary refuge for the children whose lives she touches. Even though the stay may be temporary, Drake said she sometimes develops a bond with the child and parents that lasts long after the child has been reunited with family.
In addition to fostering, she does babysitting for extra income, and some of those children are her past foster kids.
A positive experience
“I still have some mothers who call for advice and to talk about their child,” she said. “Then there are some who don’t because it was a bad time for them and they don’t want to go back there.”
Drake said she got involved in foster parenting because at one time she had a grandson in the system.
“He stayed with me for two years,” she said. “Everything worked out successfully, so I stayed with it.”
She used to work at Union Hospital in the payroll department, she said, but she left that job to become a full-time foster parent.
The pay is a lot less, based on a daily rate and any special needs of the children, she said, and she is responsible for all living expenses of the children, such as food and clothing.
“It’s wonderful,” she said of her new career. “I used to have a pretty good income, and I was not so happy. But now I’m poor, and I’m very happy.”
In the almost five years since she started opening her home, she has fostered more than 20 children.
She has gone through special training and must be certified in first aid and CPR, has home inspections, and must complete 15 hours of continuing education per year.
“It’s a huge commitment,” she said, “and you definitely have to be dedicated.”
There is a local foster parent support group that meets once a month to receive professional input and training such as car seat safety. Once the trainers at that meeting leave, she said, then the foster parents talk to each other to offer support, advice and exchange items such as children’s clothing and furniture.
“We have a system where we all try to help each other,” she said.
Staying with gigi
As for her role as a foster parent, Drake said she explains it to others as just being like a regular parent.
“I treat the child like my own child,” she said. In fact, she decided to make one of her foster children her own, and has adopted a 3-year-old boy.
“When you get a child, one of the first things to do is take him or her to a doctor,” she said. “The first goal is children’s safety.”
A child can come from a bad situation and may feel insecure about being with strangers. The child may also have trust issues or be homesick for a parent. Drake has created an identity for herself to make the children feel safe and loved in her home.
She said she tells the foster children to call her Gigi. That comes from her days as a young grandparent when she didn’t feel old enough to be called “grandma.” Someone gave her the nickname “gorgeous grandma” which was shortened to Gigi.
Drake said she appreciates the help from her own family and friends who provide clothing and other items that her foster kids can use.
Sometimes the children come to her with just the clothes on their backs, she said. It is helpful when the child welfare worker has access to a supply of diapers, clothes and other items during the emergency transition time.
Fostering for adoption
In fact, Vigo County’s DCS office has a storeroom of such supplies because of the efforts of a local group that fosters hope for children.
Jenny Kocher was one of the organizers of the Orphan Care Ministry at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church southeast of Terre Haute. The church group has made blankets for children and matched them with stuffed animals, as well as collected donations of diapers, baby wipes, clothes and children’s clothing that they continue to donate to DCS.
Kocher is a mother by choice. She and husband, Chris, adopted two Asian infants — who have grown up into 9-year-old Benjamin and 8-year-old Emma — after considering international adoption for a long time.
She said this Mother’s Day will be like any other holiday in her family — one of togetherness.
“We’ve told our children that they came to us through a different method, and we love and embrace you,” she said. “They have some other friends who are Asian. Some are adopted, and some are not. It’s not a big deal to them.”
The Kochers are now considering fostering children with the goal of adoption. They are beginning the paperwork needed to adopt out of the foster care system, hoping for a brother and sister in the 4- to 7-year-old age range.
Anyone interested in adopting a child through the state’s foster care system can go online to the Indiana Heart Gallery, which highlights some of the children available for adoption. That website is www.in.gov/dcs/indianaheartgallery.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.