Foster Care, Adoption Brings Joy to ECU Couple
By Judy Currin
When Harriett Hickey and her husband, Keith, opened their hearts and home to care for foster children, they hoped to make a difference in the life of one child. Three years into their mission, the couple has provided a safe and loving home for ten children from the North Carolina Children’s Home Society.
Harriett Hickey is a 23-year employee in the East Carolina University Chancellor's Division. She recently joined the Department of Athletics in the area of student development. Keith works in medical records at the Brody School of Medicine.
“We started thinking about foster care two years before we contacted the agency,” said Hickey. “Foster care is such a big undertaking,” she said.
“ Keith and I wanted to make sure this was a commitment we were prepared for.”
Keith also serves as an elder for Ebenezer Seventh Day Adventist Church. He viewed the opportunity to help disadvantaged children as a call to service.
“My philosophy is to live your life by making a positive difference while serving others,’ he said. “ Harriett and I realized you don’t need to travel to a third world country to help the less fortunate. In North Carolina alone, there are more than 10,000 abused and neglected children living in foster care and over 3,000 awaiting adoption.”
North Carolina state law requires all foster parents to be licensed by the Department of Social Services in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Potential foster parents receive 30 hours of training in the Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting program, which covers child abuse, neglect, working with birth parents and helping foster children deal with issues they face. The Hickeys received their training through the Children's Home Society.
After the training, an in-home study and psychological evaluations, the Hickeys received their license.
“Getting the children into our home happened pretty quickly,” Harriet said. The children they have cared for range in age from 18 months to 6 years. While some of the foster children required relatively short-term care of a week or two, others who suffered from neglect or abuse stayed for months.
“Behavior modification is challenging,” she said. “We had one little boy who wanted to fight and bite.” Hoarding food is common behavior for the most neglected.
“Few incidents are more heartbreaking, and at the same time understandable, than awakening in the middle of the night to find a newly entrusted small child raiding and hiding food found in a well-stocked refrigerator,” Harriett said.
The Hickeys have also worked with the biological mothers of the foster children in their care. The Department of Health and Human Service’s goal is reunification whenever possible. “One mother even went to church with us while we were caring for her child,” Harriett said. “ We realize the reason the children are in foster care is because the parent(s) are hurting and in need of help themselves.”
The Hickeys have provided a stable and loving environment since July 2008 for a five-year-old girl and her three-year-old brother. When recent reunification efforts with the natural mother failed, the children were put up for adoption.
“Keith and I decided we just could not let them go,” Harriett said. “We are in the final stages of the adoptive process and we couldn’t be happier.”
They plan to maintain their foster care licenses and will welcome any additional children who need their care.
“Seeing these children grow in the peace and happiness they deserve and mature into fine young individuals brings a joy to our hearts that is priceless,” Keith said.