Powell couple named Foster Family of the Year by Marion County Children Services
A few years ago, Randy and Hannah Riggs fostered a 4-year-old girl.
Being in an unfamiliar place and uncomfortable around men, the girl was frightened and ran out of the kitchen when she met Randy. Within a few days, the Riggs learned about the girl’s situation, which Randy said seemed “more like a movie than real life.”
About a month in, the girl became comfortable around Hannah and their two biological children. She eventually warmed up to Randy, saying she loved him after a family prayer. The child would stay with the Riggs for about six months before she was reunited with her parents.
Randy talked about his fostering experience at a recent Marion County Commissioners meeting, where they proclaimed May as National Foster Care Month. In addition, the Riggs were named the 2021 Foster Family of the Year by Marion County Children Services.
Foster Care and Community Engagement Coordinator Elizabeth Moore said the family was nominated by staff members and then voted by supervisors in March. Moore said the Riggs stood out from the 36 other foster families because of their willingness to take care of children of all ages.
“Their preferred age group is the younger kids, but they have even helped us out with a few older kids, and they just did a great job with them,” Moore said. “They had a lot of patience…and there wasn’t a single complaint from them about it. They were just so willing to be helpful.”
An obligation to respond
The Riggs first showed an interest in fostering when they worked in a residential facility in Chicago and became house parents to 10 high school girls. Then when the couple moved to St. Louis, they were exposed to the need of children who were in difficult situations.
“Those experiences opened our eyes more to the world around us and what the need was for many children,” Randy said. “Plus that foundation of our faith, the belief that we should care for those around us; those two just kind of go together. And so, once we saw the need, it wasn’t really something that we felt like we can say ‘no’ to. We felt like we had an obligation to respond to that need.”
In 2015, the Riggs became licensed foster parents in Indiana. They eventually went on to foster 10 children, including the 4-year-old girl. Three years later, the family moved to central Ohio and began working with MCCS.
Randy and Hannah have since taken in seven children. The Riggs have fostered children as young as infants and as old as 16 years old. Currently, they are fostering infant twins. Randy said they have had the babies for 14 months, which is their longest placement.
“As we approached the opportunity to be foster parents, we’ve tried to have an open mindset, that whatever call came through, we would be open to discussing the possibilities of having them in our home,” Hannah said. “And so, when we got the call, it just made sense that we have the ability to take them in and if we could help provide them a safe, secure, healthy environment at that stage of life, then we should give all we got.”
Due to confidentiality reasons, the Riggs cannot mention the twins’ names or how they were placed into foster care. However, Randy said the infants have adjusted well to their new environment.
Also adapting well are the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Mona, and nine-year-old son, Gavin. Randy said he and Hannah like to include their children in the fostering process as much as possible and that they enjoy seeing new placements come in the home.
“We look at ourselves as a foster family, not just foster parents,” he said.
“We think it makes them more empathetic people, makes them more understanding of people who are in less fortunate circumstances than they are. Our kids, at this point, they would probably think it was odd if we didn’t have other children in our home.”
The Riggs said they were surprised when they heard the news about being named Foster Family of the Year.
“It was extremely generous and kind and there are just so many deserving families that do this day in, day out,” Hannah said. “I just feel honored that they thought about us and that we can be that spokesperson to those who might be considering doing foster care.”
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MarionMade!: Durains provide loving home for foster kids
Each week, this series shares MarionMade! Stories of our many wonderful people, places, products and programs in the greater Marion community. To read more stories of Marion’s great people, places, products, and programs, or to share some of your own stories, visit us at marionmade.org or on social media.
Crystal and Devin Durain are changing lives one foster child at a time. The family opened their hearts and their home to children in need seven years ago as foster parents through Marion County Children Services.
“We had difficulty conceiving at first, and we were planning to adopt,” said Crystal. “We took a class on working with families and our vision changed. We both felt pulled to help families as a whole.”
So after hours of training, tons of paperwork, and a home study, the Durains became licensed foster parents in 2014. Their first foster children were siblings: a baby girl and her toddler brother. So far, the Durains have cared for 16 children through the program, ranging in age from infants to teenagers.
“When that first call came, we scrambled to gather what we needed within an hour or two. While my husband was filling out paperwork at Children Services, I was scurrying to get a pack-n-play and baby clothes quickly!” Crystal Durain recalls.
Over time, they developed a network of church groups, other families and social media friends who are ready to go into action when “the call” comes in.
“It’s overwhelming … the amount of support and people who really want to give. We’re a prayerful family and God always provides,” stated Crystal.
The Durain home is busy. In addition to their foster children, the couple has three biological sons: Deacon, 9; Elliot, 6; and Foster, 4.
Their caseworker, Karena Pryor with Marion County Children Services, said, “Crystal and Devin Durain have incorporated fostering as a way of life for their family and ensure the children placed in their care feel like part of their family. It is difficult to distinguish who is biological and who is not when visiting in the home; all children are treated equally. Crystal and Devin are great advocates for fostering.”
“When Deacon was little, he would make it a point to include (in bedtime prayers) a prayer for the mommy or daddy of our foster kids to get better so they can be together again,” Crystal Durain said.
Children Services and foster parents focus on reuniting foster children with their birth family if it is possible.
Once foster children are able to return home, it can be hard to say goodbye. “One boy we fostered for about 6 months; he and Deacon were just like brothers. Later, we went to Florida for vacation and the family was living there. We spent a day together at Chuck E. Cheese … the boys were so excited to see each other!” After kids return to their birth families, the Durains stay in touch.
The local need for foster and adoptive parents is great. In 2020, 296 local children were placed in foster care. Marion County Children Services only has 37 licensed foster homes, and only seven who accept kids ages 16 or older. Seven local children are waiting for their forever families and six of them are teenagers.
The Durains have advice for anyone considering becoming a foster parent. “I tell it straight. Children often come to you with many unmet needs — eyeglasses, dental work, mental health issues, speech therapy and on. It can be hard when the needs are great and you’re balancing that with school, work and life in general,” Crystal stated. “You pour love, effort and energy into each one. Our family isn’t perfect, but it’s good to be able to show kids a loving, caring family life.”Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
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With the Durains, the decision to foster new children is a family discussion. “This (fostering) is all our boys have ever known. Now that they’re older, we get their input first,” said Crystal. “One time, a 9-year-old girl needed us. The boys were thrilled to learn that she loved sports and pro wrestling!”
This family effort pays dividends for Marion.
“Devin and Crystal believe in the safety and well-being of children, which is evidenced by the children in their own home,” said Elizabeth Moore, Foster Care and Community Engagement coordinator with Children Services. “Fostering is truly a family endeavor for the Durains, with all three of their children seeking out ways to love and serve their community.”
For more information about becoming a foster parent, contact Moore at 740-386-0465 or go to marionkids.com.
On a cold and windy last day of March, about 20 staff members from Marion County Children Services placed blue pinwheels in the ground outside of the agency.
Some were positioned around trees, others circled around the two entrance signs.
In total, 794 pinwheels were planted. The figure represents the total number of child maltreatment investigations MCCS conducted in 2020.
The pinwheel garden is planted for Child Abuse Awareness Month, which is observed annually in April. The event stems from the nationwide Pinwheels for Prevention campaign through Prevent Child Abuse America.
Created in 2008, the organization found that people respond positively to pinwheels, which represents childhood and the organization’s mission for happy and healthy kids.
Elizabeth Moore, a foster care and community engagement coordinator, said most calls are for neglect, specifically substance abuse in front of children.
The numbers for 2020 are lower than what MCCS has experienced in recent years, likely because the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies that monitor child abuse say reporting was down last year due to COVID-19 restrictions that kept children at home instead of in school.
In 2018, MCSS handled 931 safety assessments, which was a record for the agency. For 2017, there were 844 cases. Numbers for 2019 are unavailable since the pinwheel planting was canceled early last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, COVID-19 is the reason why the case count was lower for last year, Moore said. Last March, MCCS saw a decrease in calls by 51%. Since children were attending school remotely or in a hybrid model, there were less opportunities for teachers or other people outside the home to report a potential abuse case.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), family members account for just 12% of child-mistreatment reports. At the same time, a December CDC report notes that pandemics and other public health emergencies increase risk for child abuse and neglect because of increased stress and loss of financial and social supports.
Child abuse reports dropped nationally as well. According to a report from The Associated Press, more than 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns were reported during the pandemic and 200,000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments were reported compared with the same time period in 2019. The figures represent a national total decrease of 18% in both total reports and investigations.
In Marion County, the top three reporters of child-mistreatment claims are law enforcement, medical professionals, and educational professionals. Despite the pandemic, though, some people remained vigilant in looking out for child abuse.
“We still had educators who were involved,” Moore said. “The educators have been phenomenal. They go out to the homes, taking schoolwork. Additionally, it would be family, neighbors, which is great that we have neighbors that are keeping an eye out. For family…you weren’t able to see your family face-to-face for a long time, so a lot of them were making phone calls or video calls and they were able to report concerns based off that.Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
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“The fact that we had almost 800 considering how long kids weren’t around mandated reporters it’s pretty insane,” she said.
While calls are increasing again since many students are returning to school full-time, Moore and other staff members are seeing educational neglect, where kids are not coming to school.
“When they call in these concerns, though, it’s not just typically an educational issue,” she said. “It’s also, they’re not coming to school and maybe they have noticed that there are other issues when they do come to school or when they do log in. They’re not getting their basic needs met. We have a lot of families that still don’t have any working parents or caregivers in the home.”
Moore said the pinwheels reflect the impact MCCS has in serving children in the area, as well as showing the community their impact. In addition, she said the project shows the collaboration between the staff members on not only the pinwheels, but in helping children find a stable home.
“It’s pretty extraordinary that we can rely on our community to make those calls, to be the voice, to stand up for kids and really make sure that they’re safe.”
Child Abuse Awareness Month events
In addition to the pinwheel planting, other events MCCS has planned throughout the month include:
- Child abuse and neglect identification training will be held on April 9 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The free session is intended to increase community knowledge about child abuse and neglect and the reporting and assessment process. The training will be held at the agency at 1680 Marion-Waldo Road. Masks and social distancing will be in place.
- April 14 is Wear Blue Day. The community can join staff members in wearing blue to show support for victims of child abuse.
- Children’s Champion awards will be given out throughout the month. A new initiative this year, the awards will go to kids from biological, foster and kinship families, as well as community organizations. MCCS will highlight the winners and nominees on their social media pages.
Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) declared emergency, the MCCS Board meeting will be held via teleconference. The meeting will be held at the regular date and time –April 16 at 12:00 pm
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Meeting ID: 834 9768 1981