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Richmond County foster parents thanked by DSS

Robert and Deborah Richardson were honored Thursday as Richmond County's Foster Parents of the Year.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — In 24 years of fostering children, Robert and Deborah Richardson have had some “ups and downs.”

The couple was honored Thursday evening as the county’s Foster Parents of the Year during an appreciation dinner at the Richmond County Department of Social Services.

Deborah Richardson said a few years after they were married, she wanted to adopt and wanted to learn the difference.

In the midst of fostering, she said, they wound up adopting two girls, now in their 20s.

Throughout the nearly quarter-century, the Richardsons have fostered “at least” 95 children.

“It’s been an up-and-down roller coaster, dealing with different children” Deborah Richardson said, giving credit to GOD for giving her the strength to do it. 

Deborah Richardson is used to working with children, having retired two years ago from Sandhills Children’s Center. Robert Richardson works with Scotland Memorial Hospital and is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hamlet.

They’ve had “a lot of surprises,” dealing with children of all ages, Robert Richardson said. 

“But overall, it’s been good,” he added. “It’s been rewarding, especially to see that the kids go back with their parents … that’s the main reason that we do it is to make sure that they do get an opportunity to get back home.”

The Richardsons also have raised their own biological children, who are now in their 30s and 40s.

“We just try to show them as much love as we can … so if they do go back with their parents, they know the difference between what we could do for them and what their parents are supposed to be doing for them,” Deborah Richardson said.

Lakwanza Brown, Foster Care supervisor, said the county was in the process of taking in four more children in, raising the total in foster care to 71. DSS usually tries to keep sibling groups together, placing them with the same foster family, Brown added.

There are currently 18 active foster homes — about 10 short of what is needed with the amount of children in custody, according to Social Services Director Robby Hall.

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Some of the current foster parents dropped into the lobby of the Social Services office throughout the evening, treated to a spread of meatballs, chicken wings, barbecue and vegetable and fruit trays. They also registered for door prizes, which included gift certificates, and were given a case of toilet paper and paper towels donated by Cascades.

Each parent was presented with a certificate for “surviving” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hall also read aloud a letter expressing thanks to the parents:

“…You took in children whom you did not know, even when other fully paid institutions and providers refused, due to risk or fear … and helped the agency when your homes were full by allowing other foster children who were forced to live within our own building due to the lack of providers to bathe, attend school, and heat with a family as children should.

… Opening your personal lives to children who have lost so much, also exposes each of you to the trauma and gifts that those same children bring with them. You do more than provide care, you also help reunify families and adopt many of those selfsame children creating permanent homes for which all of us are truly thankful, even when we do not say it aloud. Many in our community know little of the work you do for them, and even fewer can say they could provide what you have for children, but we are so glad that you do. …”

Since March of 2020, foster parents have cared for 103 children, according Hall.

Fretia Flinchum of Rockingham and Kelly Williams of Hamlet were the first two foster parents to arrive. Both have been fostering for about two years.

Williams knew the situation her children were in and started fostering them before completing certification. She is now their legal guardian.

Flinchum, who has been a nurse since 2012, said she feels fostering is part of her calling.

“I was in church and my pastor said, ‘Find your gift,’ and it’s caring for people and kids, so here I am,” said Flinchum, who is currently fostering three children.

Some of the hurdles Flinchum has encountered include include earning the children’s trust, having them learn the rules of her home opposed to the environment they came from, and “getting them to relax and feel comfortable, feel safe.”

“It has its challenges, but the rewards outweigh them.”

 

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.