EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is sponsored to you by New Mercy Outreach.
Bridget and Jeffrey Elam were well-versed in the nature of childcare. Between the two of them, they have a blended family of seven children and many grandchildren.
After raising their children to adulthood, the Elam’s decided to try their hand in foster care.
“I had an aunt and uncle who did foster care, and I saw the legacy—the lives that they were able to change and help,” Jeffrey said. “And so, when the time was right, we were able to do it.
The Elam’s knew Ashantia Ginn, executive director of New Mercy Outreach, and were impressed with her work as a foster parent as well as her advocacy for fostering. Although they live in Columbus, the Elam’s decided to reach out to Ginn’s foster agency in Richland County for help.
“There's a lot of paperwork, but they did a good job of explaining to us what we needed to have as far as our answers go and making sure that we understood the protocols and why we needed to do certain things,” Jeffrey said.
“The reason to choose New Mercy is because they understand and provide the support that's needed for not just the kids but also the foster parents,” Jeffrey said.
According to their website, New Mercy Outreach was founded on the belief that all children grow best when they are part of loving, supportive and stable family units. Sarah Close, assessor and caseworker for New Mercy Outreach, always tries to match children with parents based on their needs.
“You don't have to be married; you can be single, married, straight, homosexual. It doesn't matter to us,” Close said.
Anyone over the age of 18 can become a foster parent, but before getting approved, candidates must pass certain standards such as a fire inspection, acquiring a safety kit and becoming CPR and first aid certified. They also must go through a background check and show no crimes against children or anything that would make it so they shouldn't be with a child.
“Essentially, we do a home study and we check your house and we make sure that it’s okay, we talk to you about things like support structures and we make sure that you understand some of the unique issues that come with foster care,” Close said.
New Mercy Outreach provides classes every week for parents to meet their requirements as soon as possible. However, the process is different for every parent looking to foster. The average time for New Mercy Outreach parents is two to three months. Classes expire after 18 months, which would be a maximum timeline for parents to get approved.
“Sometimes people will come to classes and they go consecutively week after week and they get the requirements done really quick,” Close said. “With other people, it takes a little bit longer, but either way, that's okay.”
After taking their time going through the process, the Elam’s were approved to become a foster family. In one year they’ve had two placements in their home.
“It's rewarding to see that you can help someone's mindset change and give them things that they've never experienced before,” Bridget said. “To see their faces light up over stuff that we take for granted that they have never experienced is the most awesome thing to me in this world.”
Though the Elam’s had plenty of experience raising their children, they learned quickly how different it would be to raise a child in the foster care system. With the first child they fostered, they had to work through figuring out the reasons behind some of the child’s behavior to make the home life environment comfortable for all.
“There's always a reason behind the behavior,” Jeffrey said. “So we just had to find out what the reason was, and once we found that out, we started talking about it, and it worked out well.”
New Mercy Outreach receives referrals every day of children in need of fostering. Some of the paperwork candidates must fill out before becoming a foster parent includes a child characteristics checklist that asks the candidate questions about the child they would like to foster.
“If we get a child and it matches your child characteristics checklist that you mentioned, we will offer that child to you,” Close said. “We'll discuss what we know, and sometimes we don't know everything about a child. Other times we have an awful lot about a kid. And so we'll call the foster parent, and if it's a match, we'll go ahead and place the child.”
The Elam’s are currently fostering their second child and look forward to the opportunity to bring more positivity and special opportunities for more children to come.
“At the end of the day it is a heart thing,” Bridget said. “And if you know you have room in your home, and that you can help someone be in a safe environment knowing that you're going to love them as you will love your own, you ought to do it… It is your right to do it, in my opinion.”