PRINCETON — After 15 long years of devoted foster care, Dorothy Presnell is retiring from her fostering journey.
Presnell’s retirement comes conveniently during Foster Care Month. During Presnell’s fostering career she took in more than 50 children who were in need.
According to Joanne Boileau, the regional director of the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, Presnell is the most tenured foster parent in their placement records. “Dorothy’s story is unique just like any foster parent’s journey is unique,” Boileau said.
Presnell’s adventure in fostering started when a fellow foster parent introduced her to the concept. She knew that fostering was something that she could do to help in some way.
“My first foster experience is still ongoing. I took in a young mother and her daughter. The daughter was not quite two at the time and the mother was seventeen. When the mother turned eighteen, she went to the courthouse and said, ‘You don’t expect me to take care of this kid do you?’ Today I still have that child and she’s seventeen. She’s a junior in high school and she’s so wonderful,” Presnell said.
“She’s very mature and balanced for her age,” Homefinder, Ruth Bailey, said of Presnell’s now daughter, Katlin.
Upon fostering, Presnell had experience with raising her own daughter but found that raising children who aren’t your own can be different. “It was new. It’s very different. The children are different because so many haven’t been taught, they kind of don’t want to do anything. You’ve got to work them into that,” Presnell said.
According to Presnell, some of the children she took in found it difficult to adjust to the routine of her home. Things such as brushing their teeth, taking showers, and having bedtimes, all came foreign to them. Once they got adjusted though, she said that they enjoyed having somewhere to call home.
“Dorothy has a reputation of making them structured. Some kids just take to it. They feel nurtured and loved and they know exactly what to expect. They know when everything is going to happen and have a schedule,” Boileau said.
Presnell explained that though getting the children into the day to day routines can be difficult, it’s always rewarding when they learn to love the structure she provides.
“I think we can all do something to help someone less fortunate. Whether it be foster parenting, a meal, a pair of shoes, whatever. I just think we can all do something,” Presnell said.
Of her journey in the foster care world, Presnell said that she couldn’t have done it by herself. Though she is a single woman, she had the help of her daughter, neighbors, the support of the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, and her church.
“Her Christian beliefs have really been an undergirding during this process. She’s also helped to bridge several foster children into adoption as well,” Bailey said.
Fostering is a process that can take some time. Some of Presnell’s foster children have stayed anywhere from a few days to three years. Due to the uncertainty of stay length, foster parents must be completely dedicated to their job, like Presnell.
Accompanied by two considerable stacks of paper, Boileau held Presnell’s foster records up to show all the work she’s done. “It’s so gratifying to look back through her records and see all the names and all the lives that she’s touched.”
Reflecting on her years of fostering, Presnell said, “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.”
Though the need for foster care has always been prevalent it is now dire. Boileau said, “Less than five years ago the number of children in need of foster care stayed at 4,000,” but now the number is 7,000 or higher, she said. “A lot of it is contributed to drugs and parents just not functioning well enough to take care of their kids,” Boileau said.
According to both Boileau and Bailey, children are facing difficulties like never before. Now children are born addicted to the opioids their pregnant mothers are using and grow to have issues such as impulse control, anger issues, difficulties focusing, and more. With these issues rising, stable and caring foster parents are extremely needed.
Another issue that foster parents face is that some foster children know that their stay isn’t permanent. “When they’re in foster care they realize it isn’t permanent. They want to be a part of a family. It’s so sad,” Presnell said.
Ultimately, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia strives to place children from foster care into adoption. Permanency is what the society strives for, according to Boileau. With permanency comes hope to the children in need.
To support foster parents, social workers visit often to ensure the best possible atmosphere for parents and children. “Social workers are at your door all the time to see what you need, what they can do, what the children need, and talking with the children. You need it, you need the help. You can’t take six children in your home and do it by yourself,” Presnell said.
To further help foster families, the society offers a monthly support group. The group seeks to provide the parents with support and training and the children with support and peer mentoring as well.
Regarding whether or not Presnell would do it all again, she said, “Oh yes. When the final time comes though, you know. For three years I probably did hesitate and then I finally did say no, it’s time to quit. I have to do something else, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ve got to do something. I can’t, not do something,” Presnell said.
Anyone with a heart to help is encouraged to reach out to the Society and find out a way they can aid in children living happy and healthy lives. Presnell has proven time and time again to be not only a kind and caring foster parent but also an excellent member of society.
For more information on foster care contact the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, located in Princeton, at 304-431-2424.
— Contact Emily D. Coppola at firstname.lastname@example.org