Opening Home and Hearts

As you enter the home of Jean and Bob McConnell, you’ll notice that the walls and bookcases are filled with the smiling faces of children.

Few parents have so many sweet faces to display. For the past 29 years, the McConnells have welcomed a total of 70 foster children, some staying for up to five years. Fortunately, their large suburban home has seven bedrooms and plenty of love to go around.

Nationally, on any given day, about 400,000 children are in foster care, removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or voluntary placement. Some will eventually return to their families; others will be adopted. Some will remain in the foster care system until they age out.

Lutheran Services Carolinas foster care program finds homes for about 500 children each year, with North Carolina offices in Charlotte, Bessemer City and Raleigh, as well as an office in Columbia, SC. Each foster parent receives training and monthly payment based on the child’s needs, as well as support from LSC staff. There are three different levels of foster care to accommodate children with various needs, including those with severe emotional or behavioral issues who need the highest level of care.

Foster parents must complete 40 hours of in-service training and achieve certification in first aid, CPR and medication administration. Foster children are covered through Medicaid and are eligible for WIC benefits through the Department of Social Services. LSC foster parents also receive various types of support from Lutheran church groups, who donate things like school supplies, blankets, and Christmas gifts.

Foster parents are a diverse group. They may be married or single, male or female, employed or retired. Sometimes, like the McConnells, they have children of their own. In some cases, foster parents become a child’s permanent parents. One of the McConnells’ foster children was adopted by their daughter, Cheryl, who lives with Bob and Jean and helps with all the children.

Many of the McConnells’ foster children came to them with serious challenges, including malnourishment, fetal alcohol syndrome and shaken baby syndrome. Children’s doctors’ visits have been a big part of life for Jean and Bob, but they’ve also taken children on plenty of joyful excursions, from Disney World vacations to North Dakota camping trips.

Twins that Bob and Jean fostered many years ago joined them recently for dinner. Their life with adoptive parents after they left the McConnells’ home was rocky, and when they were teenagers, the Department of Social Services placed them back in foster care with the McConnells. Now in their early 20s, they continue to seek the advice and support of the two people who will always have their best interests at heart.

Another one of the McConnells’ foster children showed up at their door years later as an adult with a baby in tow, prompting the McConnells to take them both in for more than a year. It’s a powerful example of how the strong emotional connection Jean and Bob develop with their children does not diminish, even after their role as foster parents is over.

For each child, Jean compiles what she calls a “life book,” which is full of photographs and a letter that chronicles and celebrates the child’s life with them. Their devotion as foster parents has made the McConnells a go-to couple for LSC. They are “tireless, selfless people,” says Sharon Patton, an LSC case manager.

The need for qualified foster parents is great. In addition to a genuine interest in helping children grow into healthy adults potential foster parents must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check and undergo training. For more information, contact 1-800-HELPING.

Story by Katie Scarvey, Communications Specialist