Fostering a relationship

Parents of foster children see challenges, triumphs

Parents of foster children see challenges, triumphs


On a church-sponsored mission trip to an American Indian reservation, Keedysville resident Toni Barnhart's heart went out to the plight of people who needed stable homes.

Then she realized there was a similar need much closer to home.

"I really felt like I wanted to help other people who lived in poverty," said Barnhart, 41. "A woman on the mission trip started talking about how there were children in our county who really needed help. Kids in our own backyard that needed a place to live."

Barnhart proposed becoming foster parents with her husband, Tom. They decided to give it a try, and they attended orientation classes. In order to become a foster family in the state of Maryland, applicants must attend a 27-hour education course - Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education, known as PRIDE classes.

The course prepares applicants to cope with everyday foster-parent situations, such as medical and psychological care, clothing needs and education. It also helps the parents to develop problem-solving and teamwork skills.


As well as assesses applicants' capability to provide a good home.

Arnold Eby, 45, has been a foster parent for eight years. He helps teach the PRIDE classes.

"The trainers for the state teaching the classes are not foster parents," said Eby. "My responsibility is to fill in the reality aspect for the new foster parents."

Not for everyone

Eby's best method of teaching is to tell stories from his extensive experience.

"Even after you talk to those going through the course about the reality, they don't understand because they have never experienced it," he said. "Some people think the reality we put out is negative, but the truth is, (foster parenting) is not easy."

Eby said he gets multiple questions from applicants, but the most common is how family dynamics change with foster children in the household.

"We have biological children in our home as well as foster children," said Eby. "The difference is that the foster child comes in with a loss factor. This child has been, at minimum, removed from their home. It affects you. Lots of people are afraid of it changing them and their children."

One of the worst things about foster care, said Eby, is the media's portrayal of bad-apple foster parents who care more about money than children.

"Unfortunately there are negative stories about people trying to make money off of foster care," Eby said.

In reality, foster parents must go through an extensive background check, including financial records. If the candidates do not meet certain standards, they will not receive licenses.

"I would not say financial standards are necessary," Eby said. "Really, you need to have a deep spiritual and psychological well in order to care for these kids. A common misconception is that love is enough. It's not. These kids need more."

Eby said he's seen many foster parents decide not to go through with the training because of his stories, but he considers these decisions to be successes along with the ones who do finish the training.

"If you want to be a child's hero, this isn't the place to be," he said. "Don't get into foster care to fulfill yourself. This is about the children. It's about making a difference and filling a gap for a kid."

Most important: Helping children

The Barnharts have been foster parents for four years.

"We've had 18 total come through," Toni Barnhart said. "We've had all ages, anywhere from infant to 15 years old. Out of those 18, we adopted two girls. The first was 5 months (old) when she came to us. The adoption for her didn't go through until she was 3 1/2 years old. We also adopted an infant girl. She came to us straight from the hospital."

Barnhart is still committed to being a foster parent. However, she emphasized this is an individual choice.

"Foster parenting isn't for everyone," Barnhart said. "It's a very personal decision. I could sit and talk to anyone who was interested in doing this, but I would never really push fostering on anyone."

Barnhart said she's learned much from the children who have stayed with her over the years.

"I think I've put into prospective what's really important to me," she said. "Especially after hearing what has happened to these kids. In some ways, it's made me appreciate my family more. We try to do more family activities as often as we can."

One of the strongest family memories Barnhart has was of a little boy staying with her who had never seen the ocean.

"It was important to me that he see the ocean before he left us," she said. "We planned a day trip to Ocean City, Md., and took the whole family out to the beach. He was in awe."

For Barnhart, helping the children who come to her is the most important thing. But once their time at the Barnhart farm is over, the tough part of the job begins.

"Letting them go is the hardest part," Barnhart said. "Even though it's the ultimate goal to reunite the children with their parents, it's hard. I cry for a couple of days, but I know it was meant to be this way."

Barnhart and her family continue to have foster kids come and go from their home.

"I love the kids," Barnhart said. "I honestly love them. I feel in some small way I made a difference in their lives."

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