By Tamara Tellis/Staff Writer
Child abuse and neglect are only two of the many heart-wrenching reasons why so many children end up in foster care.
According to Alabama’s Foster Care System, about 5,700 children are currently in foster homes in Alabama, with about 2,200 of them between the ages of 14-21.
After 10 years of existence, Seraaj Family Homes in Gadsden still strives on being the leader in therapeutic foster care and building the strengths of communities, one family at a time, by providing innovative services.
“We provide training for anyone who wants to be a foster parent,” said Seraaj Family Homes office manager Rebecca Weber. “We find that there are a number of people who have thought about being a foster parent. Maybe their children have gone off to school and have an empty nest or they just feel like they want to be part of something and they heard that there is a need and there definitely is a need.
“So we train them to be foster parents, we have foster parent classes. We also take the referrals that we receive and we place the children in the most appropriate homes available. We work intensely with the families trying to collaborate with the local DHR and see how we can best serve them.”
Seraaj also prides itself on providing around-the-clock assistance for the foster families.
“Say in the middle of the night, the child breaks out all over, the child has a rash and the child’s eyes are starting to swell shut,” said Weber. “You don’t want to have a recording, you want to be able to reach somebody. ‘Hey I have this child. This is what’s going on and I’m not sure what to do.’ So someone can help them over the phone, or if it takes it, someone will go and be right at their house at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Abdul and Nadiyah Seraaj founded Seraaj Family Homes in Nebraska in 1987. The family felt that it was an intense need for a program like this for the children and have had great success with it.
In 1993, the program relocated to Alabama, adding four locations in the state including Oxford.
Family Homes- page 2A
“They believed in interacting with the children, having things for the children to do,” said Weber. “You know, children’s middle name is ‘bored.’ They are so passionate about the children and they thought that this was what they wanted to give their life’s work to and that’s what they have done and they have a very high success rate.”
In addition to the Foster Parent Training Program, Seraaj offers services such as Therapeutic Foster Care and the Mother Infant Program. Therapeutic Foster Care meets the social, emotional and physical needs of the children.
“In some cases, children can be thrown into the sewer and told to come up clean,” said Weber. “That’s why we do therapeutic care. If you have 100 children and the exact same thing happens to them, you might have everyone of them react differently; one might be withdrawn, one might be aggressive and one might wet the bed. We’ve had children 12-13 years old wetting the bed and it’s because of the abuse they have gone through.”
In the Mother Infant Program, Seraaj offers pregnant teens/teen mothers housing and care in special foster homes. Pregnant teens and young mothers’ eligible for the program are ages13-21.
“Its not unlikely for a child to have never celebrated a birthday or certificates, okay, we can buy them at dollar tree for a $1 a pack; for a child to get a certificate who never had a certificate,” said Weber. “We had an 18 year old girl one time who had never celebrated Christmas. Her foster family told her this what we do, we eat dinner, we open presents and it freaked her out. She was like ‘uh uh, no I can’t do it. I’ll stay in my room.’ It really freaked her out because she had never celebrated Christmas. So the things that we take for granted are the things that these children are so passionate about.”
Located in the historic Printup Hotel building at 131 North 4th Street in Downtown Gadsden, Seraaj Family Homes is in need of more foster parents.
“I’m like the grandmother here,” said Weber. “I’m kind of like the traffic light, ‘they went this way or they did this.’ I get to work with all of the children and I love it. I’m just glad to be able to do this.”
For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact Seraaj Family Homes at 256-547-3329 or visit www.seraajfh.com.