Staff Profile: Meet Social Worker Marilyn Bredon

By Jordan Upton

When speaking with Marilyn Bredon, two things become apparent: her love of working with children and her faith in God. These pillars in her life led her, in January 2018, to join Agape of NC as a social worker II.

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Marilyn has been an advocate for children since she was a child herself. As a Christmas gift when she was young, Marilyn was given a doll and named it Baby Sister. She knows that her parents had entertained the idea of adoption on their own, but with her insistence of wanting a baby sister, they adopted a two year old girl when Marilyn was five. When completing the adoption paperwork, five year old Marilyn piped up to give their home address and phone number, feeling very included in her sister’s adoption.

Marilyn and her sister, like their parents before them, grew up in the Church of Christ. Marilyn participated in youth group, and when she was old enough she became a leader in the children’s church Sunday morning service. She was also a leader during Vacation Bible Schools and taught bible study. In college, she ran a “Mothers Morning Out” program. Marilyn’s work with children has truly been a lifelong calling.

After college, Marilyn moved to North Carolina with her husband. While living in Durham and working for Durham County Child Protective Services, they had three children. A job opportunity moved them to Virginia, where their fourth child was born. Marilyn swears this move was all God.

In Virginia, she was diagnosed with ocular cancer. She had an ocular melanoma wrapped completely around her optic nerve. Fortunately, one of the nation’s leading doctors with that expertise was working in Richmond. Marilyn was his last surgical patient. When the job opportunity turned out not to be what their family expected, and they moved back to North Carolina, Marilyn realized God’s real purpose in moving them to Virginia - that specific place at that specific time- was so this doctor could save her life. She has been cancer-free since 2001.

Upon their move back to North Carolina, Marilyn spoke with Nicole Spickard, whose father started AGAPE. She applied in the fall of 2017 and officially started work in January 2018.

There is no such thing as a typical day in her work. What families and children need may change every day, depending on who is involved and what is happening. She was the social worker for Salem House, and is currently working with two other families that are fostering children. She may be visiting, calling, texting, and/or emailing the foster parents on any given day to discuss the children in their care. If there are older teenagers currently in care, she’ll check in with them via texts and calls too. Marilyn also helps people who are working to become licensed foster parents or renew their licenses. Some days are hectic - like during the recent July Fourth holiday when she needed to find last minute respite care after late notice of closure from a daycare. But other days, like when she receives adorable school pictures of happy children in care, balance it out.

Adoption and American Ninja Warrior Contestant

By Jordan Upton

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Season 10, episode 8 of American Ninja Warrior aired on July 23, 2018. The Dallas City Finals showcased contestant Katrina Ratcliff, a police officer from Austin, Texas.

In a heartbreaking video about her background, Kat tells the story of losing her father to pancreatic cancer when she was eight years old, and the troubled years with her mom that followed. Her mother had alcohol and drug dependencies and committed suicide when Kat was 15 years old.

When she was 16 yrs. old, Kat met Ellen. They were both working at their small town’s veterinary clinic when Ellen adopted Kat.

“I just felt like she needed somebody, and I felt like it should be me,” Ellen says in the video.

“She started nurturing me and loving me,” Kat says of Ellen. “And gave me the chance to believe in myself. That I was worthy enough to be loved.”

Kat and Ellen illustrate how important it is to offer opportunities to older teens who may have fewer prospects for fostering and adopting. Kat’s life was changed from the love and attention she received after being adopted at 16.

See Kat during the episode: https://www.nbc.com/american-ninja-warrior/video/dallas-city-finals/376613719:15 - 22:45

https://austinpoliceassociation.com/will-of-a-ninja/ https://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/austin-police-officer-will-compete-on-american-ninja-warrior/994836140

Higher Education for Foster Care Youth

By Jordan Upton

Research has shown that youth in foster care are less likely to continue on to college compared to other high school graduates. Of those who do enroll in college, many do not make it through to obtain a degree.

In efforts to help boost student success, programs such as NC Reach have been established. NC Reach is a state-funded scholarship offered to qualified applicants for up to 4 years of undergraduate study at any of the 74 NC public colleges and universities. Qualified applicants are North Carolina residents, and were either adopted from the NC Division of Social Services (DSS) foster care after the age of 12 or aged out of NC DSS foster care at age 18.

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In addition to scholarship funds that cover tuition and fees, NC Reach provides emotional supports that students may not otherwise have in their personal lives. Students are matched with a coordinator who helps them academically and personally navigate higher education. They can also request a personal coach, or mentor, who will be there to support and encourage them throughout their collegiate experience. Students will receive three care packages per year and are eligible to participate in the Foster Care to Success InternAmerica Program.

Programs such as NC Reach are making higher education more attainable for all students.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/12/07/for-foster-care-kids-college-degrees-are-elusive http://www.ncreach.org

Helping School-aged Children in Care

By Jordan Upton

Did you know. . .

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●  Children in foster care are far more likely to change schools during the school year, to be in special education classes, and to fail to receive passing grades than their general population counterparts.

●  High school dropout rates are 3 times higherfor foster youth than other low-income children

●  Only about 50% of youth in foster care will graduate from high school

●  Over 40% of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties

How can you help?

●  Donate school supplies so that students are well-prepared and have one less worry

●  Become a school volunteer to support and encourage youth in the classroom

●  Offer tutoring services for struggling students

●  Become a foster parent and advocate for the most vulnerable children every day

If you’d like to get involved and help promote the educational success of these children, please contact AGAPE today!

Facts from the National Foster Youth Institute: https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/

How Teachers Can Help

By Jordan Upton

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With 70% of children in foster care being of school age, what can teachers do to help?

There is a chance that teachers will not know if any of their students are in foster care or have been adopted, but there are general steps they can take to ensure the safety and happiness of each student in their classroom, regardless of their home life.

  1. Normalize Foster Care and Adoption

    Teachers can incorporate books and lessons that talk about foster care and adoption. Making students aware of different family arrangements and living situations can help any potential foster or adopted children feel more comfortable talking to their teachers, peers, and school administration.

  2. Learn About Student Backgrounds

    Learning about each student in the classroom can help teachers better meet each student’s individual needs. Many students who have been in foster care will experience learning difficulties from shuffling schools and missing too many days. Understanding the reasons behind each child’s difficulties can help teachers create better plans to engage these students.

  3. Build Relationships

    Quickly building positive relationships with students can help them gain self-confidence and feel secure in your classroom. It will be helpful for students, especially those who have traumatic lives outside of school, to know that someone cares for them. Since teachers see their students five days a week, it is important for the students to have trust and respect for this important role model.

  4. Become an Advocate

    Some recommend that teachers become licensed foster parents to better understand what these students may be facing. Teachers who are licensed foster parents may be able to ease the transitions by fostering students from their school, so the students would not have to relocate and potentially fall behind. They could offer a sense of stability. If becoming a licensed foster parent is not possible, teachers could still advocate for training and education for all school personnel to be better equipped to deal with students in foster care and their specific needs.

5 Ways Teachers Can Help https://www.thornwell.org/5-ways-teachers-can-help-students-foster-care/

10 Ways Teachers Can Help http://redtri.com/10-ways-teachers-can-help-students-from-foster-care/slide/1

Back to School Tips for Foster Parents

By Jordan Upton

With a new school year starting, foster parents may be asking themselves what they can do to help the kids in their care succeed at school. A few tips:

●  Communication is Key

Teachers will not know that a student is in foster care unless you or the student tell them. Disclosing this information can positively impact your child’s success. Many children in foster care experience learning difficulties, and notifying the teacher ahead of time can help them be better prepared to deal with your child’s specific needs.

●  Become Familiar with School Resources

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Many children in foster care also have difficulty navigating social situations appropriately. Misbehaving, even unintentionally, can land students in the principal or guidance counselor’s office. Meeting these school officials and making them aware of potential issues ahead of time will help them be better prepared in the moment if a situation occurs. They may be able to offer you information on after-school programs, tutoring or extracurriculars that could benefit your child.

●  Volunteer at the School

As their foster parent, you have observed this child’s behaviors at home and learned strategies for managing their stress and anxiety. If you volunteer in their classroom, you can help the teacher deal with these behaviors at school. Your presence may be calming to the student and decrease the chances of them misbehaving.

●  Ask for Help

If you are experiencing any trouble, stress, or anxiety about the back-to-school process with your foster child, contact AGAPE! Our social workers, counselors, and therapists are here to help you as well as the children. We care about the well-being of families and know that the better you feel, the better you can take care of others.

North Carolina Foster Youth and School

By Jordan Upton

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Children entering foster care are dealing with drastic changes in their home lives. They are usually removed quickly and have experienced some sort of trauma. 70% of children in care are of school age. In his article, Foster Youth & School: The Ongoing Struggles, Dr. John DeGarmo explains that these children “often miss a great deal of school, as their foster parents and case workers attend to duties such as enrolling the child into school, meeting with counselors and psychologists, and giving the child time to adequately adjust to the new living situation.”

On the UNC School of Government blog, assistant professor Sara DePasquale writes about the impact of school mobility: “Children in care who transfer schools lose four to six months of academic progress with each change in school placement. Children in foster care are more likely to be retained, suspended, and/or expelled; drop out; and perform poorly on standardized tests. In addition to the academic disruption, children who move schools also lose natural supports that exist in their original school, such as siblings, peers, or trusted adults like teachers, counselors, and/or coaches.”

In April 2017, the North Carolina DHHS Division of Social Services implemented an educational stability policy for children in foster care. It requires that every child in the custody of NC welfare agencies must have a plan for educational stability that addresses school stability, school enrollment, educational needs and services, and documentation regarding educational stability. The family services manual explains:

“Educational stability promotes educational success so children in agency custody continue their education without disruption, maintain important relationships, and have the opportunity to achieve college and career readiness. The emphasis of this policy is to minimize the number of school changes for each child and when a school change is unavoidable ensure each child is enrolled in a timely manner. Decisions regarding educational stabilitymust be based on what is in each child’s best interest.”

While there are always improvements to be made, this policy is a step in the right direction for caring for North Carolina’s youth in foster care and their educational needs.

https://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/foster-youth-school-ongoing-struggles https://civil.sog.unc.edu/school-stability-for-children-in-foster-care/ https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/info/olm/manuals/dss/csm-10/man/1201sXIII.pdf

Board of Directors Profile: Meet Vice Chairman Joe Hall

By Jordan Upton

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AGAPE of North Carolina could not run as efficiently or productively if it were not for the help of our amazing and diverse staff, volunteers, and board members. The board of directors is made up of various members of the community who help maintain AGAPE’s pursuit of excellence. Each of these members bring a unique yet equally important aspect to the organization, which allows growth, new perspectives, and expert problem solving. The board is made up of various positions, each of which holding a particular purpose and integral for the board to function well. The positions rotate every few years allowing for new faces and fresh ideas to be brought to these posts. The members of the board, who live across parts of North Carolina and in various states across the U.S., meet quarterly either in person or via teleconference to discuss the future plans with AGAPE and to ensure the organization is running at its highest potential.

One of these board members is Mr. Joe Hall, of Claremont, North Carolina. Mr. Hall is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Air Force. After spending 20-plus years traveling the country, Joe and his wife of 34 years, Cathy, ended up in Kansas. There, the couple with their two biological children, fostered a two-month-old daughter, Kimi. Shortly after, Kimi had three other siblings brought in to be fostered by the Hall family. Three years later, all four children were adopted by Joe and Cathy. The family then moved to North Carolina where Joe teaches JROTC at Bunker Hill High School.

Lt. Col. Hall became involved with AGAPE after viewing a presentation former Director Tom Slaughter made at a church service one morning recruiting potential volunteers, foster families, donors, and sharing the message of AGAPE. Shortly after Joe became a board member where he has now served in various capacities including Vice Chairman and Chairman over the past seven years.

AGAPE is blessed to have people such as Lt. Col. Hall be a part of our organization and thank him and his family, as well as families like his, for all of the work they do for AGAPE.