Shirley and Randy Murray of Myrtle Creek first thought about becoming foster parents when they were raising their own three kids. But they thought it would be unfair to them.
So they waited.
After their kids left home and an in-home daycare business fizzled out, they decided it was time.
The couple took in their first foster child about six years ago and fostered two more in the next couple of years. Four years ago, they found out about a different kind of foster program. Run by Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc., or GOBHI, the therapeutic foster care program involves taking in kids with mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder or attachment disorders.
GOBHI provides a full wraparound service. Foster parents like the Murrays are trained how to deal with kids who have experienced trauma — often from child abuse. Many of the kids are suffering from PTSD, anxiety or depression. Many haven’t learned how to form healthy attachments to other people. For some, it’s never been safe to do so. For others, who have been bounced around from foster home to foster home, they’ve never been given the chance.
The Murrays and other foster parents in the GOBHI program become part of a team that wraps around the kids. They work with mental health providers, a caseworker and others who work to keep these kids in their communities. Without their efforts, many would get shipped to treatment centers in places like Portland.
With the support they get through the GOBHI program, the foster kids can begin to feel secure and start learning how to build healthy attachments. Once that happens, their mental health problems and the troublesome behavior that comes with them begin to decrease.
“You really start to see a wall that falls, and kids are able to build attachments that just don’t exist when they first come in and they’re in that survival mode,” GOBHI Regional Child Placement Coordinator Amy-Rose Wootton said.
The program has seven foster homes now, but Wootton said she’d like to double that number in the next year. They’re also looking for part-time foster parents who would take on kids for a couple of days at a time to give the full-time foster parents a break.
New foster parents in the GOBHI program start with a 16-hour training session, where they learn things like how to avoid words or actions, such as putting a hand on a shoulder, that might seem harmless to the parent, but not to a youth who’s come out of a home where they’ve experienced severe abuse or neglect.
They’re given information about what kinds of problem behaviors the kids have exhibited in the past, and learn how to handle it, including when to call someone else for help.
“A lot of times these kids are super vigilant. They’re always scanning their environment because they’re wondering when the next blow, so to speak, is coming, and they don’t trust you not to do that to them,” Shirley Murray said.
Anger is one of the most common problems they’ve dealt with. Some kids have kicked holes in their walls, for example. Other issues have been dealing with multiple agencies and the accompanying paperwork.
Shirley Murray isn’t allowing those issues to stop her. Some of the kids she’s helped have already been shuffled in and out of as many as 10 foster homes before they arrive on her doorstep. As far as she’s concerned, they’ll be staying until they’re ready to go home or grow up and move on.
“I don’t like to give up, and I don’t like to lose,” she said.
The Murrays think the effort is worth it.
“It feels good sometimes when we’re out in the community ... and we see kids that we’ve had in our home, and we see that they’re doing well. We think, ‘OK, maybe we had something to do with them being better now,’” Randy Murray said.