Fostering Second Chances for the Most Vulnerable Among Us
By Lesley Kyle
More than 350 children in the Lowcountry need foster homes. Nearly 50 homes are sought in Beaufort County alone. The demand for qualified, trained foster parents is high.
To meet this overwhelming need for trained foster parents, Epworth Children’s Home recently established an office on Hilton Head. Island The office opened last May and held its public grand opening last month. Located at 18A Pope Avenue on the campus of St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church, the vacant building previously served as The Sandbox Children’s Museum. Olivia Hooker is Epworth Children’s Home’s Director of Foster Care for the Greater Hilton Head Area, and her office serves Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties. Before joining Epworth, Olivia received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in criminal justice. Prior to arriving in the Lowcountry, Olivia investigated abuse cases in the Tennessee foster care system.
Founded in 1896, Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, South Carolina, currently houses and cares for approximately 50 children ages 12 and up. In addition to being licensed by the South Carolina State Department of Social Services, Epworth Children’s Home is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. “We are faith-based program and offer therapeutic foster care with a higher level of support for children and the foster parents,” said Olivia. “Our team visits each foster home between one and four times per month depending on the child’s needs. We also provide 24/7 on-call support to help de-escalate a situation when the child is having a bad day.” Epworth’s hands-on approach to foster care includes their ability to identify and address problems quickly. Children who require additional therapeutic care outside the home setting are referred to the appropriate health providers for follow-up.
Epworth’s Pope Avenue location does not house children; rather, the space is used as a base for the organization’s local recruitment efforts. Current and prospective foster parents can meet with Olivia and her colleague, Pam, during regular business hours or by appointment. The structure—which was not in use for some time—recently underwent a dramatic facelift courtesy of a group of St. Andrew’s volunteers named, “The Design On a Dime” team. These folks transformed the space into a warm and welcoming environment for those who visit. All of the décor—including the furniture—was donated. “The level of support we have received from the local community has been tremendous,” said Olivia.
Background checks are required of all foster parents in addition to home inspections. Home inspections include a fire safety review to ensure the child resides in a safe environment. Prospective foster parents also participate in training, all to ensure the safety, well-being, and progress of each child. From beginning to end, the foster parent certification process takes approximately 90 days. “The certification process can be overwhelming, but we’re with you every step of the way,” said Olivia. “You don’t have to do this alone. Foster parents become part of a team to help the kids in their care feel loved and nurtured under difficult circumstances.” The child’s and foster parents’ safety and privacy are among Epworth’s top priorities. A child’s biological parents are not informed of the foster parents’ names or physical address without the foster parents’ consent.
The goal of foster care is family reunification: to provide a child with a safe place to live while mom and dad sort out whatever they need to address before the child returns to their care. Many children have experienced trauma of one kind or another, and Epworth’s evidence-based training program equips foster parents to deal with sometimes emotional and challenging situations. While adoption from foster care is not part of Epworth’s charter, children are occasionally adopted from foster care when reunification with the biological family isn’t possible. Foster parents who are not ready to commit to a child’s placement – which can vary in length – can also provide respite care. Respite care foster parents provide short-term care for a few days to give other foster parents a break. Unfortunately, many kids are currently rotating between short-term respite care providers due to the shortage of certified foster parents.
“Being a foster parent can be a very rewarding and eye-opening process because you’re introduced to so many different dynamics and cultures,” Olivia shared. “It’s a humbling experience to open your home to a child and show them love during the most difficult time of their young lives.” Couples, who are at least 21 years of age, are eligible to serve as foster parents—and there is no upper age limit.
Learn more about fostering a child and Epworth Children’s Home at www.epworthchildrenshome.org,
or reach out to Olivia Hooker at 843-407-3654