Reunification. It’s a word many foster parents worry about—how will we cope when the children placed with us leave? Foster parents Tom and Lori McElwain understand and support reunification, citing their role as giving children a safe home while their parents work to resolve their issues. The McElwain’s have fostered over 40 children in the past 17 years. Many have been able to return to their birth family; others have moved on to adoptive homes. Because of Lori’s experience working with children who have high needs, the couple provides therapeutic foster care, joining Spurwink in 2014.
Lori says Spurwink is “our Village. Spurwink gives us the extra support we need, including a case manager and an in-home support person. Our case manager comes to our home twice a month, calls often to check in, and is available “almost” whenever I need them. Our workers go to team meetings and school meetings and make phone calls and email when I can’t. They liaison between us and DHHS. I have a full-time job as well as fostering and they make the balancing act easier for me. They are an ear when I need it the most.”
An in-home support person is one service Spurwink provides. Lori explains, “An in-home support person is an important role in our home. They work with the children, giving us a much-needed break for a couple of hours. They supervise visits with the birth family. They are an emotional support for the children and for us.” She says her in-home support person is like the mailman. Rain, snow, sleet or sun, she is there, even finding ways to entertain children on Zoom in the beginning of the pandemic.
Lori and Tom are currently therapeutic foster parents to two boys. The older boy arrived the last day of August 2020. He had not been in school much of the past year. He learned if he had a meltdown, he was often sent home. He quickly found his new foster family and their team had a different plan. They listened to what he needed to feel safe and stay in school. Lori is proud that he now goes to school every day all day, likes school, and is learning to read. His mom is working hard to get her family back together. She calls nearly every evening to check in with her son. Lori says, “Communication it is such an important part of foster care. You don’t have to be best friends or have birth parents over for dinner. But be compassionate and empathetic and it will go a long way.”
The other child is five. He also arrived in August. He had just come into care and was so scared he could not handle day camp. He would lash out, kicking and screaming, or run away. He rarely talked. Now he smiles all the time, talks up a storm, and is a happy boy. He still has night terrors, but Lori hopes the love and support she and Tom provide will help him with these. She recognizes things don’t change overnight. The plan for this child is also to be reunified with his mother. The McElwain’s know his mom is doing the best she can and hope it pays off so her family can be together again. Lori notes, “Every child deserves a family.”
Could your family provide a home for a child in foster care? If so, reach out to Rana O’Connor at Spurwink. Complete the form at https://spurwink.org/foster-care/ or contact her directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.