It was a typical family portrait, mom and dad surrounded by their children, but this family was a little different.
It was only six years ago that Joshua and Janel Manning of Pell City decided to become foster parents and the couple eventually added two permanent additions to their family, 5-year-old Jada and 2-year-old Jonah.
“It was our faith and belief in helping others that led us into foster parenting,” Janel Manning said.
The couple already had two biological children of their own, 8-year-old Alyssa Manning and 16-year-old Corey Self.
“People may asked themselves, “Can I love that child as much as my own (biological) children?” she said. “The answer is yes.”
Manning said the entire family was in agreement with the idea of fostering children and eventually adoption.
Jada became a part of the family when she was only 2-months-old. The Manning family officially adopted Jada when she was 2.
“Jonah was only 2-weeks-old,” Manning said. “We actually picked him up from the hospital.”
Jonah was legally adopted by the family this past December.
“The adoption process can take a minimum of 18-24 months,” she said.
Manning said it was her husband’s idea to become a foster parent. His parents were and continue to be foster parents.
She said their intention from the start was to become foster parents and to adopt children, but not all foster parents get into fostering children with the idea of adoption.
“We went into this prayerfully to help kids,” said Tracy Whitten of Pell City, who along with her husband, Jonathan, are foster parents of two children.
Tracy said she and her husband wanted to afford children a good start in life.
“We wanted to help kids,” she said. “We just love kids.”
She admits foster parents can get attached to the children they care for.
“But you know the ultimate goal is reunification of a child with a parent or family when possible,” Whitten said.
Both women said social workers with the Alabama Department of Human Resources are responsive to the needs of the foster families and to the foster child.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Whitten said.
Manning said there have been no regrets.
“It was something we knew we were supposed to do, and we did it,” she said.
These local families are only two foster families who open their doors to a few of more than 7,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system.
Malinda Fomby, an adoption specialist for the Alabama Department of Human Resources, said there is a great need for more foster families.
She said there are about 70 children in foster care in St. Clair County.
“We average 72-82 (foster children),” said Nicole Parker, director for the Alabama Department of Human Resources in Talladega County. “Talladega County does have a need for foster homes.”
She said a larger pool of foster parents affords more opportunities for children.
Parker said the number of foster families is down. She said currently, there are only 25 foster homes in Talladega County.
“We don’t have a lot of vacancies,” she said.
She said some children are placed in homes in other counties or in other facilities or group homes, depending on the child and the situation.
“There are a lot of children out there looking for permanent homes,” Parker said.
She said some foster homes are lost because families adopt foster children.
“Fostering is the way to open the door to adoption,” Parker said.
Fomby said prospective foster parents must complete a 10-week course or GPS training, Group Participation and Selection Training.
She said families must make sure all the financial needs of a foster child are met.
“Every situation is different,” Fomby said.
She said prospective foster parents must pass a criminal background check and there is also a child abuse registry check. Biological children are also a part of the decision-making process.
“Everyone in the household has to be in agreement to foster a child,” Fomby said.
She said there is also a need for more African-American foster families.
Fomby and Parker said there is a misconception that an individual, male or female, cannot act as a foster parent.
“So many people won’t inquire because they don’t think single parents can act as a foster parent,” she said. “We do not have a lot of them, but we do have some.”
Parker said they have had single women and men act as foster parents.
“You can be a single parent,” she said.
Both DHR officials lauded foster parents and the important role they play in a foster child’s life.
May is National Foster Care Month, which focuses on the need for more people to get involved with the foster care of children across the country.
“It takes special people to do it,” Parker said. “They are wonderful people, and we need their support and help.”
For more information about foster parenting contact the Alabama Department of Human Resources in Talladega County at 256-761-6600 or in St. Clair County at 205-812-2131.
“We always need foster parents,” Fomby said.
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com