WASHINGTON, DC - The 2013 Foster Parents of the Year for metropolitan Washington are being honored this month for their commitment to their foster sons and daughters as well as to the children’s birth families. These foster parents know how to combine their love for children with a sense of how to develop partnerships which include the child’s entire family.
Several of this year’s honorees are especially good foster parents for teenagers and have helped those teens navigate difficult times in their lives. That skill is important because although the number of younger children in foster care in the area is declining, the number of teenagers in foster care has remained steady. Many of those young people are in danger of leaving the system at 18 or 21 years of age without finding adoptive parents or forming a lifelong connection with an adult.
“We congratulate all of our Foster Parents of the Year and thank them for sharing their talents, love and dedication with foster children,” said Karen Young, Chairwoman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and an Alderman in the City of Frederick, MD. “Just as importantly, we honor them for sharing those talents with the entire region which benefits from their work.”
This year’s foster parents are from the District of Columbia, Frederick, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in Maryland, along with the City of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William Counties in Virginia. Brief descriptions of their work follow. Visit the Kids Need Families Like Yours Facebook page for video clips featuring this year's winners.
District of Columbia’s Foster Parent of the Year: Arvia Palmer
Arvia Palmer has been a foster parent with DC Child and Family Services Agency for five years. In that period of time, she has provided care to over 20 children. Ms. Palmer has a unique ability to connect with the teenage population, a group that is often seen as challenging to others. Ms. Palmer describes herself as “a foster parent who believes that kids are people too”. This mantra has allowed Ms. Palmer to develop relationships with the children that extends beyond their time in her care. In addition to Ms. Palmer’s ability to form relationships with the children she is often able to develop relationships with the birth families of the children placed in her home.
Prince George’s County Foster Family of the Year: James & Gail Craig
Mr. and Mrs. Craig have provided a safe and loving home for children in Prince George’s County for the past five years. They have gone above and beyond expectations in their efforts toward transforming fragile and traumatized children into confident and zealous youth. They are currently caring for two siblings, who are from a sibling group of 13. Mr. and Mrs. Craig understand the importance of maintaining family ties and often have the children’s siblings over to their home. In addition to caring for the children placed in their home, the Craig’s are active in the Foster Parents’ Association of Prince George’s County with Mr. Craig currently serving in the role of vice president.
Montgomery County Foster Parent of the Year: Darlene Battle
Ms. Battle became a licensed foster and adoptive parent October 22, 1999, and has since had 32 children placed in her home. She has been known to accept children on an emergency basis. This has included several groups of siblings. She has shown expertise and compassion in caring for children of all ages. Ms. Battle is especially skilled at having necessary conversations with teens about the importance of education, developing positive relationships, and avoiding risky behaviors. It has been said that Ms. Battle can see the good in each and every child. This viewpoint has made Ms. Battle’s home a place where children are given second chances. This perseverance, patience and kindness is wanted and needed in a foster parent.
Arlington County Family of the Year: Mark & Rebecca Goodhart
Mr. and Mrs. Goodhart have been foster parents with Arlington County Department of Human Services since 2011. They are foster parents that go above and beyond their call of duty. Since becoming licensed they have provided care to several children. All of their placements have been teenagers with various needs and behaviors, including one child that was transitioning from a residential treatment facility and one young lady pregnant with her first child. The Goodharts ensure children placed in their home have a stable, loving, and supportive environment to thrive.
City of Alexandria Foster Family of the Year: Matt & Carole Keane
Mr. and Mrs. Keane are foster parents that embody the concept of “Bridging the Gap”. They are wonderful team players. The Keanes work with the team to help find solutions that are child-focused and respectful to birth families. Recently the Keanes fostered a three year old; the child was able to make a successful and smooth transition to a relative’s care. This was largely due to the Keanes’ tremendous work in building a relationship with these relatives. They included the relatives in family activities such as the child’s soccer games and gymnastics lessons. They also often had the relatives over to their home for dinner. As a result of this “Bridging the Gap” work, the child was able to make a smooth transition to his relative’s care all the while being able to continuing have ties with the Keanes.
Fairfax County Foster Parent of the Year: Amy Zydel
Ms. Zydel is an excellent foster parent who is committed to providing support to birth families of children who are placed in her home. Ms. Zydel recently opened her home to a premature infant. The baby initially presented with special needs that were related to her premature birth. Ms. Zydel immediately began communicating with the infant’s biological mother who was in the hospital. She kept the birth parents informed of all the child’s medical appointments and progress documenting with many photographs along the way. She went out of her way to guarantee the biological parents develop and maintain loving bonds with their child. Ms. Zydel has become a strong support for the family. So much so that the child’s family has stated that they consider Ms. Zydel family.
Prince William County Foster Family of the Year: Keith & Jacqueline Mitchell
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell took the initial step in becoming foster parents in 2010. They called the Department to share their interest in fostering children of all ages. The Mitchells were approved September 2010 and have been fostering none stop since. They have demonstrated an enormous amount of dedication, patience, commitment and endurance for the children that have been in their home. They have worked through challenging behaviors with some children and also have provided care for a special needs child that required weekly therapy and constant supervision.
Regardless of the issues they face, the couple treats the children as if they were their own. Whenever, the Mitchells go on vacation, they take their foster children. Whether they travel to Orlando, Florida or take a short trip to Williamsburg, Virginia the children are always with them.
Frederick County Foster Family of the Year: Byron & Sharon Copley
Mr. and Mrs. Copley have been licensed with Frederick County Department of Social Services for 10 years now and have provided loving care for two boys, who are part of a larger sibling group, for that entire duration. The Copleys have always understood the importance of family connections. Through the years, they have maintained consistent contact with the boys' siblings, parent, and extended family members to ensure that the children had the opportunity to maintain their family relationships. The Copley family and the boys' birth family have truly blended into a larger extended family for the children, sharing holidays, birthdays and special occasions together. The Copleys have certainly been through many ups and downs with the boys through the years, and their commitment and dedication have not gone unnoticed.
This past year has been especially trying for the family. Approximately 8 months ago, one of their foster youth was involved in a terrible accident, resulting in a serious brain injury. Through his months in the hospital, the Copleys never left his side, driving back and forth from Frederick to Baltimore on an almost daily basis. They learned how to care for him from the doctors and nurses, and they supported his birth mother and family members even while they, themselves, were trying to cope. The youth returned to the Copley's home approximately six months after his injury. To ensure the youth was cared for around the clock, the Copleys adjusted their work schedules and coordinated with his birth family to ensure that his needs could be met in their home. The Copleys have been his caretakers, biggest cheerleaders, emotional and physical support, and his advocates through it all.