By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. — The Pee Dee branch of Lutheran Services Carolinas joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning to hold a ribbon cutting.
Lutheran Services Carolinas is a nonprofit health and human service organization and social ministry in both South and North Carolina. The organization provides foster care, as well as training and support to those transitioning out of foster care.
Michele Thomson, regional manager, said the mission of the organization is to serve children and families in South Carolina.
“We get referrals from all over the state for kids that are in need of foster care and we can’t place them,” Thomson said. “We have kids that are sitting in DSS offices overnight. They’re having to pay for hotel rooms for kids to stay in- with supervision of course- because they don’t have a foster home to go to.”
Thomson said the licensing process is tough and many kids have a hard time finding a good fit, especially as they grow older.
“It’s tough to find good matches with homes and parents that understand what this child has been through, but still are willing to give it a chance and try to help them work through those issues,” Thomson said. “We want to train and license those foster parents and help the kids.”
Though the organization is partnered with the Lutheran Church, a foster parent or volunteer does not have to be Lutheran. All foster parents are provided training with support groups and are provided 24/7 supervision with a lead clinical specialist. A recruiter will assist a family in the process to become licensed and compensation is provided at a daily rate for the child placed in a foster home.
Thomson said her passion for helping with foster kids comes from her own child.
“I have a child of my own,” Thomson said. “She’s 15 and I look at her every day and I look at her life and I compare it. When I look at these kids, I look at them having those same possibilities if we can put some things in place for them to get there. These kids are our future.”
Jean Keefe, director of transitional living, said she is designing a program for young adults exiting foster care from the ages of 18 to 21 that will start in October.
“They can stay in foster care until they’re 21,” Keefe said. “Many of them come to us as teenagers and they’ve been moved from home to home and by the time they get to us, they’re tired of it and they just want to be done. After 18, they have to sign themselves back into foster care, but some of them are so tired of it, they quit and, unfortunately, many of them end up homeless. I’ve put together a program called the ‘after care program.’ Basically, we try to find them housing, get funding for them to go to college if that’s what they want, help them find jobs. Whatever they see as a need for themselves, that’s what we try to help with.”
Keefe said that foster parents are asked to become an advocate for the child and provide a safe and nurturing living environment for them.
“I started out in DSS and back then people were just starting to think about preparing these kids for independent living when they leave foster care,” Keefe said. “I just watched kids make mistakes and it’s just a passion for me to get them off the street and to truly be able to help them.”