Parenting is often called one of the most rewarding, stressful jobs a person can take on, and foster parenting is no different.

However, Limestone County finds itself in a constant need of people willing to apply for the latter, according to Limestone County Department of Human Resources Director Traci Miller. As of Monday, there were 81 children in DHR's care but only 36 licensed foster homes.

"Most people say, 'I don't know how you could take one in and let them go,'" Miller said. "It is difficult."

But those who do it call it one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

"It gives the kids a safe place, a loving place to stay while their mom and dad work on themselves and get themselves ready to parent again," said Maria Tyler, vice president of the Limestone County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

Kaitlyn Westmoreland

Kaitlyn Westmoreland, a foster mom in Limestone County, holds her 3-year-old son Devin in this undated holiday photo. Westmoreland has cared for nine children during her three years as a foster parent.

Foster parenting in Limestone County requires a 10-week training course, set up and managed by DHR's resource unit. Miller said a lot of the training focuses on how to handle the traumatic situations a foster child may have left and what to do or not to do if behavior issues arise.

"The classes are easy to access, but difficult to sit through," Tyler said. "Hearing the thing these kids go through is terrible. That's the hardest part — realizing this is real life and these innocent children are put in these situations that are not fair to them."

In addition to training, individuals must undergo a background check and home assessment. Foster parents do not have to be married or live in a specific type of home, but Miller said they do need to have space and beds available for a child or children.

Once approved, a foster home can be licensed for up to six children, and foster parents can specify what ages, genders or other factors they would prefer in a foster child. For example, some parents have the resources to foster a teenager but not a toddler, or they have toys and clothing for boys but not girls.

The needs of the child are also important. Some fare better in a home with other children, while others need to be alone or with a certain type of foster parent.

Ricks family

The Ricks family has fostered 14 children in the four years since becoming licensed in Limestone County. Standing here are, front row, from left, Gracie Ricks, Elizabeth Ricks, Clara Ricks and Hallie Ricks; back row, William Ricks, mom Nicole Ricks, Andrew Ricks and dad Tony Ricks.

"If we can get them matched up with a good foster parent based on the needs of that child, they seem to do pretty well and adjust pretty well," Miller said. "That still depends on us and making sure we get the services in there to address the trauma, the issues of why they were removed from the home and maintain contact with the family. All those factors play into that."

Miller said that trauma can be compounded if a child has to move several times, so they try to keep foster parents informed and involved every step of the way, while also providing help. To that end, LCFAPA is available to support and advocate for foster parents.

"We offer monthly meetings, we have trainings, we have parties and different activities we do for the kids and the parents," Tyler said. "Everybody that is part of the foster, adoptive and kinship group is invited to all of that stuff. Everything we do is free of charge to the families."

Kinship families are a subset of LCFAPA, featuring families in which a child is raised by their aunt, uncle, grandparent or other non-parent relative. LCFAPA is open to any foster, adoptive or kinship family that resides in Limestone County, even if the children are from a different county.

"They are really close-knit and really help and support each other," Miller said. "We also have services where if (a foster parent is) struggling or there are issues they don't know how to handle, we are always able to put services in the home. ... We want to do everything we can to support that foster home and that placement."

To apply to become a foster parent, call 256-614-6380.

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