They are the children and youth that are oftentimes the most neglected, pushed aside - but in desperate need of care. A program called "Louisiana Mentor" is filling the gap for this vulnerable group with medical, emotional and behavioral challenges.
Carolyn Dunning of Lake Charles is a mother of three grown sons. She says she did not grow up in a stable home but made it her mission to provide a loving home to her biological children and now to foster children with some of the most severe needs. "They have a lot of needs that some people might look over, and you can help these children if you just give them the time and just working with them to see what they are able to do," she said.
Dunning is a foster mother to young people with special needs through Louisiana Mentor, a human services provider that partners with several state agencies, including the Department of Children & Family Services. "It's to support them no matter which way, whatever happens," said Dunning, "so I'm there for them."
Mentors, as they are called, go through 36 hours of special training to equip them for foster children or youth with complex needs. "You learn how to work with them on their behaviors," said Dunning, "you learn about their medications, how to give them their medications."
Dunning was placed with two girls, ages 12 and 10, a year and a half ago. The neglect was so extreme with the younger girl that Dunning had to start with the basics. "She didn't know how to tie her shoes. She couldn't open up the door. She couldn't bathe. She couldn't put her clothes on," said Dunning, "it was just a lot of things that were lacking with her."
But through love, stability and consistency, both girls are now thriving. Dunning says they are a family for as long as she has them in her care. "We do Thanksgiving, Christmas. We go to the parks, and they're in Buddy Ball, all different kinds of sports and activities," she said, "the girls really enjoy the things that they do."
Mentors may be married or single, men or women - they just need to have the compassion for a person in need and the commitment to make a positive difference. "Somebody helped us, so we're just turning it right back and helping another child," said Dunning.
Mentors do earn an income as well. They receive board payments through the foster care system, as well as an extra stipend depending on the needs of the child or youth in care.
If you want to learn more about Louisiana Mentor or Mentor programs in other states, click here. BJ Gallent is the program recruiter for Southwest Louisiana and she can be reached at 318-451-7556.