FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — May is National Foster Care month. For Mike and Lori Dudgeon, becoming foster parents is a decision they’ll never regret.
Three years ago, while attending Johns Creek United Methodist, the couple heard a talk about the need for more foster families in north Atlanta.
“They were making a big effort to get more foster families in this area because ironically, in the wealthier areas of the state, there’s less foster families even though there are more resources,” Mike said.
As the foster care advocate was speaking, Mike turned to his wife, and without speaking a word they knew they had made up their minds to become a foster family.
The Forsyth County couple had three sons of their own. They had considered fostering before, and with now with their youngest in high school, they felt it was the right time.
“Even when it was just our kids, our house was the house where a lot of times there were five other kids,” Mike said.
Through Wellroot Family Services, the Dudgeons received training that covered parenting, helping children who have experienced trauma, and understanding the child care legal system.
As an agency of The United Methodist Church in North Georgia, Wellroot programs provide support for children and foster parents through an assigned foster care worker, a 24/7 on call system, access to supplies and extra financial support.
“Since we’re doing it through our church and through Wellroot, we have an extra level of support,” Mike said.
After the couple completed training, two sisters, ages 2 and 6 at the time, were placed with the family. The children had been in foster care for a few months before they came to the Dudgeons. They’ve been with the family for two and a half years now.
“You mentally prepare for the idea,” Mike said. “But when someone brings two kids to your house, they talk to you for about an hour and a half and then they just drive away and there are two girls sitting there. They don’t know us from anyone.”
Mike said their friends, especially the community at Johns Creek United Methodist Church, have been incredibly supportive. They helped the family find babysitters and donated toys and hand-me-down clothes.
“I hate to say it takes a village, but for a foster child, I’ll say it takes a village,” he said.
Though some foster children are eventually adopted, usually the ultimate goal is to reunite them with their birth parents. The hardest part of fostering, Dudgeon said, is knowing that the situation is impermanent.
“You become attached to these kids, but you don’t know how long you’ll get to keep them or when they’ll go back,” he said. “That’s up to the courts.”
Dudgeon encouraged families who are thinking about fostering to talk to foster families in their community. They can also go through training and become a respite family, a family that watches foster children overnight if their host family goes out of town, to see if it’s right for them.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster to do it, but it’s very rewarding,” Dudgeon said. “Kids don’t have a choice of who their parents are or what environment they’re raised in. You can have a kid for a month or, like us, for few years, and for a lot of kids that’ll be one of the better environments they’re raised in.”