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Filling a need and a home: A foster parent's journey
Shannon Casas unloads parts of a crib she and her husband Brendan assembled in anticipation of becoming foster parents.

Fostering first: An occasional series

Times Metro Editor Shannon Casas and her husband recently became foster parents. This series explores her experiences as a brand-new parent in that special role.

We got the call at 3 p.m. on a Monday. Two little ones needed a home.

My heart started racing as I tried to listen to the details through a bad phone connection. Did we want to take them for a weekend?

It was a moment six months in the making, though a meeting at a church in Clermont to learn about FaithBridge Foster Care wasn’t exactly the start of our journey.

My husband and I always dreamed of having kids. When we bought our first house, we decided we were ready to expand our family. I thought getting pregnant would be the easy part. As the months went by and then years, it became obvious that it was not easy, not for us.

We talked about options. We had some tests done. But throwing money at the problem wasn’t the right choice for us. We decided to take a break.

Later that year, I learned about FaithBridge, a private agency that contracts with the Department of Family and Children Services to provide quality foster homes.

It wasn’t a solution to our infertility. We didn’t make the choice thinking that we would find a child to adopt. But the fact that our home was still empty of children meant that we had the space, time and energy to devote to others’ children. And I knew the need for foster parents in Hall County was huge.

After that first meeting with FaithBridge in Clermont, we signed up for a weekendlong training.

At a church in Alpharetta in a little room with about eight other couples, we learned about the types of situations the children come from, how to handle their behavior issues and what it really might be like to be foster parents.

I wanted to help. The stories didn’t scare me. A child who screams when you try to touch them or who cuts up furniture if they get their hands on a knife — they are children who need love and stability.

I nervously asked my husband if he really wanted to do this. Luckily, though it started as my idea, it became his passion as well.

But there was a whole lot of paperwork, some appointments and a lot of waiting before we could call ourselves foster parents.

We were required to get physicals, do CPR training and get fingerprinted. We had to draw up a fire safety plan, sign paperwork promising we wouldn’t spank the children, prove we had clean water and a working septic system. That was just the start of the list.

Friends, co-workers and family members often lamented about all the rules and paperwork. Here we were ready to help children in need, who lived in homes likely much less safe than ours before we even started checking off the list of requirements. We’d nod our heads at their frustration.

The most frustrating part, though, was every time I saw another report of child abuse or neglect, some case in which I knew a home was needed. And I couldn’t do anything. Not yet.

The state has its reasons for all the rules, though. It is responsible for someone else’s children. No matter the care the children received before, the homes the state places them in better be ready to handle them.

When we finally finished the paperwork in December, next came the home study process.

We outfitted our house with child safety locks for drawers with knives and cabinets with small appliances and cleaning supplies. We bought a carbon monoxide detector and a fire extinguisher.

A woman with FaithBridge came to our house to check those items and ask personal questions for two hours. List all of your relatives, their ages and their occupations. What is your most traumatic childhood memory? How did your parents discipline you and what kind of effect did that have? What are your hobbies? What activities were you involved in as a child?

A second visit somehow included even more questions. And after the visit there were follow-up questions before finally our home study application was complete.

We got a final visit from FaithBridge to check off on the safety of the home.

The woman recommended adding child safety knobs to the doors to the outside — for “runners,” those children who feel the need to run away.

She advised putting even the small steak knives in a drawer with a child lock.

We noted the suggestions and she said she’d send the paperwork to the state in the next couple of days.

One Friday, she emailed with the news — we were approved.

Three days later I was wondering where to move the beds to make room for cribs, picturing my husband trying to change his first diaper on a squirmy toddler and feeling a bit of relief that we would start with just a weekend visit.