Editor’s note: This is the third in a weekly series about foster care and The CALL in Union County. The series will run through Dec. 24 as part of our Community Christmas Card campaign, where we ask readers to help a local nonprofit through donations collected by the News-Times. Everyone who donates at least $2 through Dec. 21 will have their name listed in the Community Christmas Card that runs in our Christmas Eve edition.
For Rexayn Tribble, the decision to invite foster children into her home boiled down to one question.
“Isn’t their pain worth mine?” she asked rhetorically, but earnestly.
Since Tribble and her husband, Kurt, signed up to become foster parents with The CALL in 2014, they have cared for 67 children.
Rexayn regards it as one of the best decisions she has ever made.
In Union County, the Tribbles are one of many local families who open their homes to children in need. By the end of June, there were more than 130 children in foster care in the county. The CALL in Union County, a faith-based nonprofit organization, works to serve foster children and foster families within the Christian community, through recruitment, training and support.
Starting the fostering journey
The Lee family moved to El Dorado from Texas, where they started their fostering journey. In the Longhorn State, their personal mission was to foster children with the intent of adopting them, David Lee said.
“We had a little girl for a long time, part of our family and she left us, went to a great aunt,” he said. “That was devastating especially to our son, Joshua. They were peas and carrots and that hurt. We stopped doing it for a little while. When we moved here, we didn’t even say the A-word.”
After being acquainted with the town, Lee, who serves as the Boys & Girls Club executive director, mingled with other nonprofit heads, his wife, Michelle, said.
“Our kids kept telling us ‘Mom and Dad, this is what we need to do. Why are we not doing it? This is what our family was called to do,” the Lee matriarch said. “One night he came home and he said, ‘You know we need to go and support The CALL, one of the nonprofits and go look at the Heart Gallery.’”
During their time viewing the traveling exhibit at South Arkansas Community College, they saw photos of young Arkansans “waiting for their forever homes.”
The goal of the Project Zero Traveling Heart Gallery is to spread the word about the adoption process through the state and get the kids shown matched with families, according to a previous News-Times report.
“While we were there, so many children spoke to us on that wall,” she said. “We went over to PJs, sat down, had a long conversation and told our kids, ‘We’re going back through training to foster here in Arkansas.’”
For Rexayn and Kurt Tribble, fostering children and understanding the inner workings of the foster care system were not new concepts.
When the pair met more than a decade ago, El Dorado native Rexayn soon learned that she shared a special bond with California-born Kurt.
Both had grown up with foster siblings in their home.
“Both of us grew up with our parents fostering children. I was 6, and I grew up with a foster brother. He was my brother, and he’s still my brother,” Rexayn shared.
Learning of the common tie between her and Kurt was a revelation, a call from God, Rexayn said, and after the couple married and settled in Parkers Chapel, they began exploring options for foster care.
One of those options was The CALL. A foster care service that incorporates the tenets of Christianity into caring for children who face adverse circumstances was the right fit for the Tribbles.
As a gift for Rexayn, the couple completed the first round of paperwork on Sept. 27, the day after her birthday, in 2014.
Just under four months later, they welcomed their first foster child, a 15-year-old girl.
“We’re not the normal stat. It usually takes four to six months. We qualified for training in October, and did all of our stuff (by the deadline). Anytime you don’t do that, there are delays,” Rexayn said.
At the time, resources were scarce for foster care in Union County, and the couple had to undergo training in neighboring Columbia County.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster home to a child in need, The CALL can help streamline the process. Karen Langston, county coordinator for The CALL, said here’s what you should know:
To be a foster family through The CALL, you must be an active member of a church congregation and have a pastoral reference. “It lets us know that A, we’re plugging the church in and B, that our foster families are almost vetted within their community,” Langston said.
A prospective foster family would then attend an information meeting with representatives of The CALL, who work with the Department of Human Services to do the full background check.
The CALL provides training in a streamlined fashion, using two full weekends to go through all of the state materials, instead of a process taking several weeks through the state, Langston said. “In one month, we can get a family done with their training,” she said.
Once all materials are gathered and training is complete, Langston turns over a complete file to DHS and a home study is scheduled.
It takes about one month to write the report from the home study before a decision is made on getting a new foster home open. “We can get a home open in four to six months,” Lansgton said. “There are no cracks in that system … I personally will follow your paperwork every step of the way.”
For more information, contact The CALL at 870-814-2809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There was one trainer in Union County, and she did a lot of individual one-on-ones,” Tribble said.
State rules and guidelines for training changed, and a minimum number of families were required for the training to proceed.
The Tribbles became “family No. 4” for The CALL in Union County. Around the same time, Karen Langston was hired as county coordinator for the program.
Seeing a need for qualified trainers to help grow the number of foster families in the area, Rexayn volunteered and is now training coordinator for The CALL in Union County.
“Karen and I grew up in this together. There were four families and Karen Langston, and we relied on each other for support,” Rexayn said. “I was in it, so I could see there were not many families, and I thought that I can do something else.”
The Lees attended state-mandated training sessions administered by The CALL for several weekends to prepare.
“They tell you everything you’re going to go through as a foster parent,” David Lee said. “There’s no way you can be totally prepared. They try to give every bit of information that they can, what you’re going to deal with. They don’t hide anything because they want you to get in and stay in it.”
The nonprofit’s mission is “to support families,” meaning that it supports the parents, foster children and the biological children with support groups and resources they may need, David Lee said.
“Everybody’s taken into account,” he said. “They do nights where moms and dads can go out. When they watch kids, they watch bio kids, foster kids and adoptive kids. During Christmastime, I know we had the surprise one time that the boys got presents as well, not very many, but a few.”
Soon after training, the parents were notified that three girls were coming to live with them. They arrived with a shopping bag filled with “rags for clothes, literally,” Michelle Lee said.
“It’s hard being a foster parent, especially when you get such a large placement of children because it’s so much that these kids need … They do not come with anything,” she said. “We had three of them and it was amazing how people everybody pulled their clothes, went through stuff they had stored, called people they knew, put on Facebook … It’s so amazing how much support we received from The CALL.”
Nearly 70 children of both genders and varying ages have come under the Tribbles’ care for a number of reasons, primarily due to being removed from their homes due to drug abuse within biological families.
“We’ve had them from three days to 94 days, from 8 days old to 18 years old,” Rexayn said. “God used us to meet these kids where they were, and we try to help them get better.”
The Tribbles are also mindful that such experiences can be traumatic for the children they take in, particularly when events unfold unexpectedly.
“Sometimes, kids can be removed from school. They left the house and mama on the bus that morning, and they’re at my house that night, and a lot of kids don’t know why,” Rexayn explained.
While the Tribbles foster children of all ages, they lean toward teenagers when called upon to help.
Rexayn said many foster families tend to shy away from older children.
When they began caring for foster children, Rexayn and Kurt had adult children of their own.
“So we had had teenagers, we had dealt with teenagers, we knew what they were like, so it doesn’t scare us,” Rexayn said.
The “foster” adjective is deleted when children are sent to the Tribble home. They become part of the family, Rexayn said.
“They are my children,” she stressed.
Finding support amid challenges
For the Lees, “being called to do this” has not only blessed their family, but also their Immanuel Baptist Church family.
“Our church — at Immanuel — they’ve adopted our girls, too. They’ve accepted them with open arms,” he said. ” You can look and see that not everybody’s called to foster, but in instances where they’ve helped a foster family, you can see how it has blessed their lives by being able to pitch in and help.”
The Tribbles are members of West Side Baptist Church, who, Rexayn said, has not hesitated in responding to The CALL’s premise to mobilize churches.
“West Side provides monthly support, and anything we need, we go to my church first, and they rally around us to make sure we get anything we need,” she said.
In addition to monetary support, College Avenue Church of Christ lends its facilities for The CALL training sessions and offers practical support, such as raking leaves, for foster families.
The community also gets involved in other ways by volunteering and helping to stock The CALL Mall, a space where some supplies are kept to help provide the best care for foster children.
When a child arrives, foster families can rely on the mall for supplies that are needed immediately, including some clothing items, diapers, hygiene items, backpacks, school supplies, etc.
The mall space is small, so people often bring donated items to Rexayne’s business, All About Flowers, in Downtown El Dorado.
Over the past two years, Rexayn said several families have approached her about foster care, and many have said they are reluctant to do so for fear of getting attached to their young charges.
“Do they not think I get attached? I’m not a robot,” she said frankly.
There are a myriad of other ways citizens can assist foster families.
“They can take the kids to the park or to McDonald’s. That’ll give them and you the opportunity to make new friends,” she said.
One volunteer has folded laundry for foster families and others have shorn up home playground equipment, Rexayn said.
The Tribbles’ extended family members are also invested in their role as foster parents.
“They have to be. The grandparents, my parents — I can’t come to their house with four extra people for Thanksgiving or Christmas if they’re not comfortable with it,” she said.
The Tribbles have answered The CALL, and it is something they hope to be able to do for as long as possible.
“It’s worth every tear I have shed,” Rexayn said.
While they consider fostering a blessing, it poses many challenges for the Lee family. David Lee said that hurdles they’ve faced include acceptance, attachment and trust issues, but he has personal chains to bear.
“Our three young ladies that we’ve adopted, what they went through for that five years and even more than that before we were able to adopt them, what they’re life was like, the abuse and neglect that the girls took in is just unimaginable,” he said. “It’s hard not to be extremely angry when you think about that. I struggle with that a lot … Sometimes you don’t want to think about it, but you have to. Sometimes they have behavioral issues and you think to think and really understand that what they’re doing is for a reason. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their behavior, why they lash out or whatever they do.”
The ups and downs of fostering affect the biological children as well as the parents, Michelle Lee said. The Lee family now includes one biological daughter, two biological sons, three adoptive daughters and one foster daughter.
An unfilled need
For Rexayn Tribble, the most challenging part of being a foster parent is the fear that a biological parent who struggled with drug addiction will relapse once a child is returned home.
However, that fear temporarily subsides each time she witnesses a reunion between a child and his bio parent(s).
“That’s the most rewarding part … and seeing the parent’s face and the child’s face when the judge says you can go home,” she said.
She added that many bio parents routinely check on their children as they work to better their lives in order to get court approval for their child to return home.
In the last fiscal year, 68 percent of the children who left foster care were reunified with their own family or that of a relative. The state report notes that in Arkansas, 91 percent of children who leave foster care go home, to a relative or to an adoptive home, which exceed the national average of 80 percent.
Working with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, area churches and other organizations to help make sure foster children go to loving homes “has been fabulous,” Rexayn said.
Not only The CALL, but Union County needs many more families to house foster children. An overwhelming number of youth from the county are placed in state homes in surrounding areas and the number is growing, David Lee said.
In the state, the ratio of licensed foster home beds to children in foster care was .77, which gives workers limited choices of where to place a child. In Union County, 12 foster homes closed during the last fiscal year, either due to a decision by the foster family, a change in family circumstances or because the family was opening their home to a child with whom they had a previous relationship.
Becoming foster parents is “as easy as picking up the phone and calling Karen (Langston),” David Lee said. The Lee mother offered advice for interested parents before calling her.
“Really think about it, pray about it and make the decision as a family … You need to talk to your biological kids,” she said. “It needs to be a family thing because it takes the whole family. These kids come in, they want stability … They may not act like it sometimes, but they desire that family unit. I think the most important thing is even if they’re there for only 24 hours or a year and a half that they’re a part of your family, that you’re going to incorporate them into your family and make sure they feel like your child.”
When a child is placed in foster care, there is a series of steps that must occur. According to state resources, there are five main parts to the judicial process in foster care cases:
Probable cause: This is the initial hearing once removal has occurred. At this hearing, the court determines is the Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, had sufficient reason to place a child in foster care.
Adjudication hearing: This hearing is typically held within 30 days of the probably cause hearing and seeks to determine whether the allegations in a petition are substantiated by a qualitative majority of the evidence.
Review hearing: The court will review foster care cases no less than every six months. At any time during the life of a foster care case, any party may request the court review the case.
Permanency planning hearing: Each child in foster care will have one of these hearings no later than one year from the date the child is considered to have entered foster care and not less frequently than every year thereafter while in foster care.
Termination of parental rights: The court may consider a petition to terminate parental rights if the court finds that returning the child to the family home is contrary to the child’s health, safety or wellness, and that returning the child home cannot be accomplished in a reasonable period of time. This ends all of a parent’s legal rights to their child.
The CALL strives to ultimately reunify foster children with their biological families, as long as it is in the best interest of the child. The organization tries to minister to the biological families as well, to ensure a smooth transition if reunification is possible.
Managing Editor Madeleine Leroux contributed information used in this story.