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Mother's Day family celebrations include foster children; Challenges offset by joys of sharing home, love, say local moms.

Byline: Susan Spencer

The blond-haired 3-year-old boy looked angelic as he paged through scrapbooks at the dining-room table of a comfortable Sutton home, the family border collie curled up by his feet.

Karen J. Kinney, the boy's foster mother, beamed as she described how the child has blossomed since he came in December to live with Mrs. Kinney, her husband, Roy, who is pastor of Pinecrest Baptist Church in Millbury, and their three adolescent children, who live at home.

The Kinneys also have two grown children.

"We'd go to the store and he'd have temper tantrums. I don't think some of the kids I get (in foster care) have ever been out in stores,'' Mrs. Kinney said. "You take them to the library, read the books, play with the dog -- just normal everyday things. It's neat watching them open up and grow.''

The Kinneys are among the more than 900 families in Central Massachusetts that provide temporary foster care to children under the oversight of the state Department of Children and Families.

It's a labor of love, with its own share of parenting challenges. But the foster mothers who spoke to a reporter emphasized the joy that came from sharing their homes and families with children in need.

Mr. and Mrs. Kinney received additional training and work with the Devereux Center in Holden to provide intensive foster care, formerly called therapeutic care, which emphasizes behavior management for severely traumatized children.

The 3-year-old is the Kinneys' third long-term foster care placement. Two previous foster children, both school age, lived with them for a year to 18 months.

"Every child has a different story. They just can't be in their home right now. Some don't have a home,'' Mrs. Kinney said.

A day after the interview with the Telegram & Gazette, Mrs. Kinney said she accepted a 15-month- old boy who needed care.

"He came with a small box of clothes and shoes that aren't all the right size, no car seat, no diapers, no food and no real information on care except that he had a few allergies,'' Mrs. Kinney wrote in an email. "The really sweet thing is that the social worker was holding him and he put his hands out for me and has been mine ever since! ...We fed him, went off to church, picked up diapers and rocked him to sleep. ... So thankful.''

The Kinneys, including their two foster children, will celebrate Mother's Day first in church and then by going on a family picnic at Old Sturbridge Village, where the boys can run around and see the animals.

Mrs. Kinney displayed a Mother's Day card made for her by a former foster son, which the Sutton school staff helped him create. He also made a card for his birth mother.

"The thing is, they have mommies, they have foster mommies. How do you deal with Mother's Day?'' she said. "I don't replace their mommy, but I provide for them the way that mom probably would or could.''

"Foster parents are such remarkable people,'' said Stephen H. Yerdon, executive director of the Devereux Center. "They're taking these kids into their home. They've got them 24 hours a day. They share their love and their home, but even that's not enough. They teach them new skills.''

The Devereux Center, one of some two dozen private agencies working with DCF, has 140 children placed in intensive foster care and typically places more than 200 a year.

"In most instances, what gets them to specialized foster care is they probably have failed in four or five other foster homes. They need a higher level of care,'' he said.

In intensive foster care, children learn positive ways to get attention or respond to stressful situations.

Mr. Yerdon said, "A lot of these children that come to us really don't have a lot of hope in their lives. The foster parents that come to us work with them, give them that hope and help them make changes.''

Maria Benitez, family resource supervisor at DCF's Worcester West area office, said the agency has a big need for foster parents for children of all ages. "We have children coming for placement and we have limited resources,'' she said.

The regional DCF offices work directly with foster families for children who don't require the higher-level, intensive foster care.

"Ideally, we'd like to have the best match (between foster families and children),'' said Roxanna Johnson-Cruz, family resource supervisor at the DCF's Worcester East office.

Besides providing trauma-informed training and other skills for foster parents, DCF links each family with a resource worker who is that family's "go-to'' person. The child's social worker works with foster families, too.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children provides up to eight hours of respite baby-sitting a month to foster parents, so they can go to appointments or take a break.

Foster parents also receive 10 respite days a year, a vacation of sorts.

But foster parents often take children in their care with them on family vacations.

"When our foster parents come to us, they do it completely from the heart,'' Ms. Johnson-Cruz said. "They really try to integrate the foster child in the family.''

"As a foster parent, when we take children in, we care for them as part of our family. Our children are very loving,'' said Liz P. Keyes, a foster mother in Brimfield who has three foster children ranging from infant to school age.

Ms. Keyes, who is divorced, also has two adopted children, ages 5 and 6, and two biological daughters, ages 16 and 18.

On Mother's Day, Ms. Keyes' extended family will celebrate with her mother -- who also provides foster care -- and an extended network of nine biological and adopted siblings.

"It's been a passion of mine,'' Ms. Keyes said about foster parenting. "I was a foster child myself. Growing up in the family I was with, I saw so many children come through the home that really needed a lot of help. I wanted to give back.''

The hardest thing about being a foster mother, Ms. Keyes said, was seeing the condition some of the children arrive in.

"To see the bruises, the broken bones, is heart-wrenching,'' she said. "The effects of neglect and drug addiction -- it's very sad. Then we nurture them, give them the help they need and help them grow.

"I'm very grateful that I've got this opportunity to do this for these very special children, and I really wish there were more good homes out there because there are so many children who need it.''

Despite the trauma that typically leads children to foster care, two Worcester foster mothers say the parenting challenges aren't unique.

"These kids weren't that different from my biological kids. These were sweet little kids that were born in unfortunate circumstances,'' said Mary Sue Schaefer, who with her husband, Michael Richards, have cared for eight foster children in the last eight years.

They also have three biological children, ages 10, 12 and 14, and a 4-year-old adopted daughter.

Ms. Schaefer said providing foster care was good for her whole family. "Your kids see that not everyone is born with what they have,'' she said.

Cori G. Henry and her husband, Kris Billiar, were convinced by Ms. Schaefer that they too could be foster parents. After going through the state's training and extensive home study, the family, which includes two biological daughters, ages 6 and 8, received a 4-year-old boy for care in November. They are about to adopt him.

"When he moved in, he called us 'Mom' and 'Dad' for the first time. It's kind of like he chose us,'' Ms. Henry said. The boy had previously stayed with three or four families.

"We're just a family. He's traveled all over with us to visit family... it's part of the mix,'' she added.

"I'm just so grateful. I feel so lucky that he came to us because he's such a wonderful child.''

Adults considering becoming foster parents can call (800) KIDS-508 or can also visit

Contact Susan Spencer at Follow her on Twitter @SusanSpencerTG.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Spencer, Susan
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 11, 2014
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