ELKTON — For Kim and Rusty Shuler, treatment foster care is a calling.
The Elkton-area couple has seven children, five of which they adopted through their foster care experience. The youngest are Austin and Elijah, energetic 10-year-old twins.
“They were 6 when they came to our house,” Kim Shuler said as Rusty pushed Elijah on the swings at Meadow Park in Elkton. “We’ve learned so much. We see things through their eyes.”
Kim said she learned that the twins’ placement elsewhere was about to fall through and she and Rusty stepped in.
“I called the Department of Social Services in Harford County and I said I wanted them,” she recalled.
Treatment foster care is for a number of types of children, including those who have suffered neglect or abuse and have been removed from that situation. They often have lingering issues with trust, or developmental delays. It can also include an infant or child with special needs, is medically fragile, a teenaged mother with her baby, or event short-term respite care.
Karen Guilbault, treatment foster care recruiter for The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region, said social workers in Cecil and Harford counties work to make the best match of a child with a treatment foster care family. Those families are not left alone in the process either, she added.
“We do two home visits or more each month. There’s training and we also have 24/7 on-call assistance,” Guilbault said, noting that while foster care placements are often immediate, sometimes there is a window of opportunity. “If there’s time, we help them prepare.”
Guilbault is inviting anyone interested in becoming a treatment foster care parent to come to an introductory seminar June 18 at the Elkton Central Library from 6 to 8 p.m. A second seminar is set for July 12, also from 6 to 8 p.m., at Pleasant View Baptist Church on Downin Lane in Port Deposit.
According to Guilbault, you don’t need to come with specialized training. Treatment foster care is about meeting these kids where they are and being a solid foundation for them.
The Shuler’s involvement in foster care began when their son Ryan, now 30, was in elementary school. Ryan was born with his umbilical cord around his neck, which caused developmental delays. In his class of special needs children, his parents made a stunning discovery.
“A lot of kids in his class did not have (permanent) homes,” Kim Shuler recalled. “We knew there was a need. We went into foster care with the goal to re-unify.”
Over the years they have fostered 16 children, adopting five. The older children are now fairly independent, with jobs and families of their own.
Now the couple finds themselves in the mix again with a pair of active boys that enjoy school and just finished a season of Challenger Division Little League baseball.
“I like hitting the ball,” Elijah said.
There are challenges raising kids with special needs. Shuler said the twins need counseling and therapy that is not available in Cecil County. The Shulers make multiple trips each week to Baltimore. However, they did discover one therapist based in Berlin, Md., that makes house calls.
Still, it’s worth it, she said.
“You are doubly blessed,” Shuler said. “You take a child and give them structure and a family and hope.”
Guilbault is in search of other organizations to host treatment foster care seminars where potential parents learn about the emotional, physical and financial supports available. She said there are children in Cecil County waiting for placement. More than 150 are already in foster care in the county. Seven of those are in treatment foster care.
“We get referrals monthly for children that are in need of homes,” she said.
For more information on treatment foster care, contact Guilbault at 443-412-5425 or go to The Arc Northern Region website arcncr.org