Addressing a national crisis
International expert, author headlines Thornwell Foster Care Conference-Sept. 15
Simpsonville - Dr. John DeGarmo, Ed.D., international expert on foster care and author of the newly published book The Foster Care Survival Guide, will be the keynote speaker at the second annual Thornwell Foster Care Conference on September 15, 2018, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Simpsonville.
“Foster care is in crisis in our nation. There is an increase in the number of children being placed into foster care not only in South Carolina, but nationwide, due much in part to the opioid crisis that is strangling our country. Yet, with more children being placed into a strained foster care system, there are not enough foster parents,” said DeGarmo. “To be sure, not everyone can be a foster parent. To be sure, it is the most challenging yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. Yet, everyone can help a child in foster care in some fashion. Whether it is by being a mentor to a child in care, helping with school supplies, providing new clothes and toiletries to foster parent associations, or many other ways, each of us can help children in care, and bring much needed resources and aid to these children who have suffered so much. Faith, Hope, and Love is doing just that; providing much needed help to South Carolina’s children in foster care.”
DeGarmo’s keynote address, entitled “Facing Challenges and Reaping Rewards,” will focus on the many different and distinct challenges that foster parents face daily while caring for children in their homes, and examine the many rewards that come with being a foster parent. This presentation is designed to reassure that the feelings of difficulty for a foster parent are valid, and motivate and inspire them to continue to care for children in need in their home.
DeGarmo and his wife have three biological children and three adoptive children from the foster care system, plus they care for up to three foster children at any given time, although that number can change day to day. What is it like having so many children in their home? “Being a foster parent is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve had 55 foster kids, and every one that has come through our home made me, in some way, a better parent, a better spouse and a better person overall.”
He cited an example. “A child came to us when she was 17. She had gone through three failed adoptions over nine years, with all the families abusing her in some fashion. She went through so much, so we tried to be a consistent force in her life. We gave her unconditional love and promised she would be part of our family forever. She aged out of system and has gone on to do so much. She is now 27, she has a college degree and works in a child welfare program where she is a case worker of sorts. She is using her education and lived experience to help others who are facing challenges in their lives. She is a great mother and recently we visited her in the new home she just bought. She inspires me and her story inspires me. We speak several times a week and we remain a consistent force in her life. The unconditional love never stops.”
In addition to the keynote address, DeGarmo will lead a classroom session entitled “Birth Children and Adoptive/Foster Children: Living in the Same Family.” The conference will also offer 10 additional sessions taught by foster care experts, covering topics including addiction, ADHD, CPR and first aid, common behavioral problems, and more.
There are more foster children in the system than there are foster homes. Currently, there are 1,459 children in foster care in the Upstate and only 616 foster homes. At least 502 more foster homes are needed now.
“The critical need for foster homes prompted Thornwell to start a new foster care program last year to recruit, train and support foster families in Upstate South Carolina,” said Thornwell’s President Rev. Elliot Smith. “Not only does Thornwell help foster parents navigate the application process, we also provide training and a supportive community for our foster parents.
“Building on the success of last year’s conference, we are excited to bring Dr. DeGarmo to this year’s Foster Care Conference. We feel his expertise will be a great benefit for current and prospective foster parents.”
The cost of a complete conference pass is only $40 and includes admission to all training sessions, breakfast, keynote luncheon, snacks and drinks. Plus, conference pass holders will be given full access to Dr. DeGarmo’s online training, a $39.95 value. A ticket to the keynote luncheon only is available for $20. Childcare will be provided and includes lunch. Registration for the conference is available online at www.thornwell.org/conference.
What does DeGarmo say to people who may be interested in learning more about becoming foster parents? “You may not be able to change the world, but for a child who needs stability and love, you can change their world,” he said. “When you care for a child in need in your own home, when you give that child unconditional love, you receive so much joy and love. These are not bad kids, they’re kids who’ve had bad things happen to them. They need someone to say I will care for you, I will be there for you, I will love you unconditionally. What a wonderful opportunity that is.”