Foster Care: safe, loving homes for youth in care

Being a foster parent is Charlene Carter’s way of making a difference in the world and in the lives of the kids who are placed into her care. “I want the children who come into my home to know that someone cares for and loves them,” said Carter.

During Charlene’s 32 years as a Kids Above All foster parent, she has provided a safe, loving home for more than 30 children and has adopted or been named the legal guardian of 14 others. She first became a foster parent when asked by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to temporarily care for the children of a family member. After they had been successfully reunited with their mother, Charlene realized that she had found her calling. She started researching foster parenting and found Kids Above All through Ed Woodley, a member of Carter’s church and a foster care case worker at the agency.

In her more than three decades, she and James, her husband of 18 years, have cared for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and violence. She credits the family atmosphere of her Kids Above All team for helping her kids to succeed.

“I couldn’t do what I do without the help of my team at Kids Above All. They are the best, and make sure the child and I have everything we need.”

Charlene acknowledges that fostering is not always easy. “These kids have many challenges, but I believe that if you welcome them with a heart that is ready to give, a little love and patience can go a long way.” One such child is Isaiah, who came to her care when he was 11 years old.

Isaiah had been hospitalized more than 20 times for behavioral issues associated with bi-polar and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders, and his mother couldn’t take care of him anymore. Charlene met him at the hospital and promised him that he would get the help he needed so that he would never have to go back. Ms. Carter and her Kids Above All team made sure that he had the proper medication and regularly attended counseling sessions to begin the process of healing from the trauma of his mother’s decision.

Isaiah later had an opportunity to reunite with his mother but chose to remain with Charlene, saying that the stability and love he felt from her made her house feel like home.

Isaiah thrived in high school, playing football in the fall and wrestling in the winter. He started college in Peoria this past August and already has a job in the school’s athletic department.

Charlene also kept her promise to Isaiah: He’s never returned to the hospital.

All of the more than 30 children who have been in Ms. Carter’s care have finished high school and are currently employed. They get together on holidays, birthdays and Mother’s Day, and two years ago, when Charlene and James renewed their vows, more than 100 people attended, including the biological mother of one of Charlene’s foster children, who spoke about the impact Charlene had on her child’s life.

Ms. Carter believes so strongly in the power of fostering that she got her four sisters involved as Kids Above All foster parents. She knows that there are many more children who need safe, loving homes to help them reach their potential, and says that while being a foster parent has its challenges, it is also very rewarding.

“These children come into my home after experiencing tough times, and when they accomplish their goals – finishing school, getting a job and starting a family – and take the lessons they learned in my home and apply them to their lives, I know that I have done my job and have given them the love they needed.”

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