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Foster mom opens her heart and home
Foster mother Renee Tatum, just like maternal mothers, gets to enjoy Mother's Day with her children Daniel, 12, left, McKenzie, 8, and Amber, 9, right, all of whom the Tatums have adopted as their own. Tatum currently has no foster children, but one could be placed with her at any moment.

LULA - Being a mother can be one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs.

Ask Renee Tatum.

This foster mother and adoptive parent has come into motherhood in a nontraditional way, but that doesn't mean her bond with her children is any less strong.

"When you are a birth parent you have 40 weeks to prepare for that child," Renee said. "A foster parent, you may have two hours ... and they come with nothing. If they do it's very slim, some clothes ... They come with maybe one diaper, one bottle, no formula."

Mothers honored today come in all forms, from grandparents to aunts and even good friends. Foster mothers are special in their own right.

Renee said the family's trials through the years have made her a better person and a better mother.

"You learn how to deal with loss, a lot more than the average, everyday person," she said. "We've had 22 kids, all of them but three went home or went somewhere else, and it's hard when you are caring for a baby and you bond with that baby that comes straight from the hospital."

The idea to become a foster mother partly came from her own childhood.

"My grandparents were actually foster parents," Renee said. "But I remembered they always had this picture of this baby on the wall for my whole life ... and it was a baby that they wanted to adopt and (the Division of Family and Children Services) told them that they were too old and that's when they quit fostering."

Renee said that heartbreaking experience for her grandparents had an effect on her.

"They would be willing to open their house to anybody that needed a home, and when you know that there's a child out there that doesn't have a place to lay its head down, how can you say no?" she said.

So, in 2002 Renee's drive to help less fortunate children became so strong that she and husband Ronnie Tatum took the courses required by the state to become foster parents.

When the Tatums went through DFACS requirements and classes seven years ago to become foster parents, the guidelines were a little more stringent. Today, prospective foster parents must complete pre-service training, physical exams, drug screens and criminal record checks. Homes also must meet other safety requirements, according to the DFACS Web site.

"The basic requirement if you are married, you have to be at least 10 years older than the child ... 20 hours of IMPACT preservice training," said Diana Thornton, who is in charge of resource development in the Banks County DFACS office. "We are always in need of foster parents. Right now I think every county pretty much is hurting as far as the numbers of foster homes that they have."

Often, she added, parents are so moved by the children they take in, they make them a permanent part of their family.

"A lot of parents, they open their home to be a foster parent and then they adopt. And they close because they don't want to be foster parents any more. The easiest way, I guess you could say, is to foster a while and you have a child in your home and that child becomes free for adoption. And of course, you have first option to adopt that particular child."

Since first opting to take on foster kids seven years ago, the Tatums have had 22 foster children, ranging in age from 4 days to teen-aged, and they have adopted three.

"She's got a big heart, extremely big heart. Sometimes she has too big a heart," said her husband, Ronnie.

Their three adopted children, Amber, Daniel and McKenzie Tatum, say they feel loved.

Amber, 9, said her mom "really cares about us."

Daniel, 12, said he had a great time on the family trip to Disney World. The youngest, McKenzie, simply said "I love my mom."

Through years of being a foster parent Renee, who lives in Lula, came up with an idea to create a Foster Parent Association so local families can collaborate on things other foster families may need.

"I have started a foster parent association for Banks County," she said. "There are five families that are foster parents (in Banks County), and we are trying to get our association started. We have only had one meeting."

The meeting among other foster parents will help create a collaboration of resources, she said.

"I'm going to have a clothing closet for the kids that come into a foster home, and the other foster parents can call me ... and we'll have furniture and I'll be able to get us into the food bank so we can get that to the families that need it."

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