BCH residential care should be priority in child placement
August 10 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Listing and jerking down my driveway on a Saturday morning an ancient Oldsmobile rolled to a stop. Behind the wheel a large mountain mama filled the seat, with a skinny, beak nosed man occupying the shadow beside her.

They had come to see their daughter, who was a resident at Mills Home in Thomasville, one of 15 facilities operated by Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH).

I lived on campus and called the director on duty to learn where this couple’s daughter lived. I directed them to the cottage and resumed washing my car. A few minutes later they reappeared, and mama was a bit agitated. No one was home at the cottage.

I learned the cottage residents were on a field trip that morning and when I called the director back for more information I was glad they were. When he learned it was her parents who were looking for the girl, he told me they were to go nowhere near her. Their parental rights had been terminated after it was discovered they kept the girl in a cage behind the house.

Baptist Children’s Homes is filled with true stories like that. For 124 years BCH has been the light on the porch in a stormy night for thousands of hurting children and broken families.

One little boy came into care at BCH at age 12, wearing size 3 clothes. He had been kept in a closet his entire life. Other children have been beaten, neglected, abused by relatives, wandered town to town one step ahead of the landlord, lived in cars in relatives’ driveways, seen their mothers beaten or even killed.

When one little girl was put out of the car during a rainstorm on a muddy road in front of her grandmother’s house, only the light on the porch gave her any hope that she might find a safe place to lay her head that night.

Her mother already had chosen the boyfriend over her daughters and the boyfriend had no patience for the girls, feeding them from a bowl on the floor, “like the dogs they were.”

Offering primarily residential services since 1885, over the past several decades BCH has expanded services to include help for parents who say, “Please help me. I can’t do anything with my child.”

In those instances BCH social workers work with the family and child through their difficulties, sometimes without the child having to leave the home.

BCH was born while the South still reeled from the Civil War. The death or disablement of one parent meant the other could no longer care for some or all of the children.

A sad parent would drop children at the orphanage where they would stay until they graduated from whatever level of schooling was considered enough at the time. BCH has not been “the orphanage” for many decades.

With advances in health care and social services and in the absence of large scale war, there is very seldom a child in care who has no living parent. Instead, BCH has been a refuge for hurting children whose homes have been thrown into sometimes dangerous turmoil by a wide variety of circumstances.

Children at BCH live in a home-like environment with residential counselors or “house parents” who establish routines and run the household like a family. Children have chores and responsibilities. They attend local schools and local churches, and can stay as long as they need to.

It is a stable environment and for many children is the most stable, secure, safe and loving environment they’ve ever lived in.

County departments of social services in North Carolina have custody of almost 10,000 children.

That is a huge number of children who have been removed for their own safety or benefit from their homes.

Social workers try to place the children with other family members, or with a foster family or, barring those options, with a residential care provider like BCH.

It seems BCH would be a better first option than last resort. In the last three decades an anti-institutional wave has washed through the nation and tremendous institutions like BCH are considered by those agencies that need places for these 10,000 children only as a last resort. If a child can be kept safely with his or her family during a difficult time, that should happen. But there were 25 killed in North Carolina in 2007.

There are good foster care homes, families that pour their hearts into troubled children. But the system is not in good shape.

Two hundred twenty children in foster care were “maltreated” in 2008, according to the “Kids Count” national report. It is not unusual for a child who comes to BCH “as a last resort” to have been in a dozen foster home placements. Four or five such placements is common.

And yet, one of the benefits of foster home care cited by the North Carolina Department of Human Services is “stability.”

Residential care offers far more stability because staff is trained to deal with the anger and belligerence of children coming out of difficult situations and they won’t be shipped away if they act out.

Children in residential care like BCH have opportunities for field trips, beach vacations, athletics, public speaking, special educational enhancements, medical attention and post high school education help that many families and typical foster homes simply do not have.

Expense is always the primary reason given for departments of social services to avoid placing children in residential facilities. As usual, our children who have no votes, no political voice, no power get short shrift.

It is frustrating for BCH administrators to know they have more than a century of expertise, excellent facilities and staff, Christian commitment and professional competence to help thousands of children, and those responsible for the children hold a limited perspective of residential services.

Like the bulb on grandmother’s porch, BCH can light the way for others if those responsible will consider BCH services earlier in the process of finding what is best for our children.

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Jennifer Shore's blogs:
From the Alumni's Perspective
She Believed Me
Ewww - What's That Smell?

More stories to come
8/10/2009 10:28:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

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