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Foster dad has found happiness

September 18, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - As a man who once wanted no children, Arnold Eby jokes about how he found out that the woman he met and married dreamed of running an orphanage.

Now that the couple has more than enough children to fill a baseball infield, Eby said he has discovered something else: happiness.

A vice president of the Maryland Foster Parent Association, Eby, 42, said he has gained more than he has given since he and his wife, Donna, opened their home to foster children more than four years ago.

"I'm convinced that one day for them, one chance for them to see something different, could change their life for them forever, and if we have just that one chance, we have to have do it," said Eby, the father of two girls, ages 8 and 11.

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The group's goal is to work with the state Department of Human Resouces to provide information to foster parents, said Eby, the executive director of Star Community, a nonprofit residential facility for developmentally disabled adults.

According to David Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services, the agency always needs more adults willing to offer temporary homes to children.

"We have 120 foster families. We would like 120 more," he said.

Washington county averages a monthly foster-care caseload of 350 children, Engle said in an interview last month.

Whether at work or in his six-bedroom house on Salem Church Road, Eby said, the phone can ring at any time with news of more children who need a place to stay. On Wednesday, the count of foster children registered at five - three boys around the ages of 4 and 5, a second-grade boy and a 10-year-old girl, Eby said.

"I think there's a pair of sweat pants in every size in our house," he said.

At first, saying goodbye to children - most have permanency plans to return to their birth families - was difficult for the foster parents and temporary sisters they left behind, Eby said. His daughters, especially, were sad when the first group of children came and went, he said.

"Anymore now, when anyone goes home, the coping mechanism that we use, or that they use, is, 'Who's going to be next?'" said Eby, who estimated he and his wife have served as foster parents for more than 30 children, ages newborn to teenager, over the past 4 1/2 years.

According to a January 2006 Maryland Department of Human Resources report, boys, children with special needs, sibling groups, older children and teen mothers are among the hardest children to place in foster homes. Of the 10,458 children living in out-of-home care on Nov. 8, 2005, in Maryland, most were in foster care, while others were in treatment centers, group homes or other facilities, the report states.

Across the United States, more than 500,000 children are in foster care on any given day, according to the National Foster Care Coalition.

Foster children often have been abused or neglected, or they have watched their parents struggle with alcoholism or drugs, Eby said. Those issues have prompted candid conversations in his house, he said.

At times, Eby said, he does not have the answers for children whose birth parents have disappointed or hurt them again.

"I have learned how much I don't know, and I have learned that I don't always have to have the answer," he said.

Sometimes, he said, being there is enough.

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