By the time Tara Wilson brought home a 7-year-old foster son in the summer of 2002, her home was the fourth he'd been placed in since being removed from his biological parents four months earlier.
"He came in kicking and screaming, fussing and cussing," Wilson said. "But imagine somebody driving up to your home, putting you in a car, taking you across the state and saying this is your new home. That was traumatic."
Through the Georgia Youth Advocate Program, Wilson said, she has been a foster parent to 12 children in the past 4 years.
After his parents' rights recently were terminated, Ms. Wilson adopted him.
Sitting at McDonald's - as she watched her son dart between eating a Happy Meal and yelling for "mama" to watch him do flips on the playground - Wilson talked about the rewards of fostering and adopting.
"He has ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and when he came and I had to take him to the hospital to change his medication, he said, 'You won't come back, they never do.' That tugged at my heart. I just didn't give up on him," she said of the Harlem Middle School sixth-grader. "It's not his fault what happened to him - he's just a product of circumstances. And there are hundreds of thousands like him that need homes. There's just not enough homes out there."
The program is a licensed, nonprofit child-placing agency that primarily specializes in therapeutic foster care, said Art Brownlee, the executive director.
"Therapeutic foster care provides community homes and families for kids who've been subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse," he said. "We provide homes that meet the needs of kids who have mental health, emotional or behavioral issues."
Brownlee said there are around 12,500 children in state custody in need of foster parents. His office is serving about 50 children, he said.
Nina Jones works to recruit qualified parents and match them with a child.
"We try to make sure there's an appropriate match because the child's been traumatized already by leaving their family, and then to be rejected from another family," Jones said.
Qualified parents must be at least 21 with a clean criminal background and must have enough space in their homes. At least one adult must speak, read and write English. Parents also must be able to meet their financial needs before getting the reimbursement rate given for taking a child, which ranges from $15 to $60 per day.
Parents are given training about how to care for the children. The program provides staff who perform follow-up visits and are available 24 hours a day, Brownlee said.
"We're looking for foster parents, not employees. People need to do this for the love of the kids, not for the money," Brownlee said.
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