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Open arms

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By Scotty McDaniel

Sixty seven.

That's how many children have been cared for under Sue Newton's roof since 1996.

It was 12 years ago when working in a school cafeteria that Sue Newton encountered a little girl who was a foster child. Newton said something drew her to the girl, and it was then that she realized she had work outside of the cafeteria to tend to.

Since then she has given foster and adopted children of different ages, sizes and colors a stable home and somebody they can depend on. She is presently called "Nanny" by most of the five foster children and five adopted children she and her husband, Tommy, watch over in their Waddy home.

She works in the cafeteria at Heritage Elementary, but if she could afford to she'd devote every second to the children.

"I'd like to be able to stay home and take care of foster kids and adopted kids," she said. "But so far, my money doesn't let me do that."

Taking care of so many children is not an easy thing to do, she said. As special needs foster parents, Sue and Tommy welcome a number of children into their home who struggle with behavioral problems. Some have mental issues and others have been physically abused.

As in any crowded household, there are arguments and messes. Some of the kids get in trouble on the bus or at school. It is in those moments of vulnerability that Sue said she needs to regain the children's trust and remind them that they're not alone.

"Sometimes you have a lot of school problems," she said. "But you just gotta be there and let them know that you're behind them."

Then again, in a lot of ways the children are no different than any others.

"They like to have name-brand-clothes, name-brand-shoes, just like other kids. And I try to do that. I want them to be like other kids," she said.

Over time, she said the children become more comfortable as they understand that she's there for them. The children are rewarded with a lot of praise when they deserve it, and Newton said she is rewarded when a child who wouldn't come near her when he first got to the house wraps his arms around her and says "I love you."

Foster Care Month

This May marks the 20th annual Foster Care Month - a campaign with the goal of raising foster care awareness and showing appreciation for the efforts of people like Newton.

In 2005, over half a million children nationwide were in the foster care system, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Nearly 7,000 children were under foster care in Kentucky in 2003, according to statistics on the National Foster Care Month website, www.nationalfostercare.com. The male/female ratio of Kentucky foster children was nearly 50-50, and the average age of a Kentucky foster child was 10.7 years old. In 2004, Kentucky contained 1,492 licensed non-relative foster homes and only 10 percent of foster youth lived with relatives.

"There's a lot of foster kids in Shelby County," Newton said. "There is a big need for foster parents."

To be considered for foster parenthood, one must fill out an application, be open to a background check, home inspection and personal interview, make a sufficient income, be in good physical health, meet state and local licensing requirements, be over 21 years of age, and take foster care training to better understand the needs of a foster child.

Call (800) 232-KIDS (5437) or the Shelby County Department for Community Based Services, 633-1892.