Conference highlights rewards, issues for Foster parents

As seen in Temple Telegram April 29. Story by Janice Gibbs, Telegram Staff

Nancy LeChuga was a foster parent for a while without really knowing it.

LeChuga was one of six speakers at the Foster Care Conference held Friday for foster parents and those who serve those families and children.

LeChuga, a primary prevention specialist at Aware Central Texas, whose mission is the prevention of child abuse, neglect and family violence, said that when looking back at her time as a foster parent she remembered how hard it could be.

She took in a sibling group of three, not as a foster parent but someone who wanted to help the children.

“I didn’t know the severity of their abuse, I just jumped in,” LeChuga said.

Fostering is a calling, she said. There is a price in time and emotion.

After some time and the building up of trust, the children began to open up about what they had been through.

The trauma had been severe and manifested itself as psychosis in one of the children, LeChuga said.

In another case, the mother was selling her child for drugs.

“Talk about anger issues,” she said. “When they have a hard time with authority it’s difficult. The nicer I tried to be the harder it was to win him over.”

There are parents who use their kids for sexual pleasure; the trauma and anger is devastating to witness, LeChuga said.

“We know what you do for these children is priceless, standing in the gap for these children,” she told the parents and advocates for foster children.

LeChuga and her husband took in a child who was a month old, weighed four pounds and had a black eye.

“I met him at a foster family Thanksgiving dinner and my husband and I tried to sooth him so he would quit crying,” she said. “We didn’t know he cried all the time.”

The next day the LeChugas were asked to take him on and she was thrilled to join the mommy club.

They found out his parents were both HIV positive and his medications made him ill.

In the first year, there were 25 visits to the emergency department.

“You really have to watch what you pray for,” she said.

LeChuga said people would look at him and ask what was wrong.

“I didn’t see anything, to me he was perfect,” she said.

They found out he was not infected with HIV and by the second year the parents’ rights were terminated and the LeChugas decided to adopt.

“We were so happy, and then we got the phone call telling us an aunt in Oklahoma wanted to raise him,” she said.

For the next six months LeChuga said she learned how to let go.

“I held him a little closer and I held him a little longer,” she said.

They went to Waco to meet the family where the child’s uncle told the LeChugas that God had told him to leave the child with them.

“I know many foster families outcomes are not as happy as mine,” LeChuga said. “I know the pain and suffering. I know when you love, you love with everything you have. And when you have to let go, you know you are a part of that child’s life and did what you needed to for them to have the best life moving forward.”

LeChuga’s son is now six years old and was just diagnosed with autism, which is just another adventure.

“He’s healthy and happy and we have a good relationship with his family,” she said.

Other topics and speakers Friday were: “Medication Management for the Foster Parent,” Chanin Wright, director of department of pharmacy, Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center; “The Basics and Access to Physical and Occupational Therapy,” Kelli Howell, clinical manager rehab, Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center; “Common Mental Health Issues Seen With Kids in Foster Care,” Dr. Kyle Morrow, child and adolescent psychiatry; “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: A Community Response,” Dawn Owens, assistant director Bell County Juvenile Services; “Their Socks Don’t Match,’ Lamar Collins, assistant principal Temple High School; “The Strong Impact of Taking Time to Invest in a Foster Child and the Effects That it Can Bring,” Nancy LeChuga, prevention specialist, Aware Central Texas.