Foster care: OK but improvements needed

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 5/18/2011, 5 p.m.

"I consider myself a professional mother," said Annie Hall, who is currently caring for five foster children. "I enjoyed raising my kids, and I'm enjoying it again."

Hall and her husband, Elisha, a retired Marine, nurtured three of their own children, who now are 28, 30 and 33. She used to visit with her sister in Palmdale, and helped her with the five children she adopted out of the foster care system.

"I never expected to have five foster children of my own," Hall said. "It just worked out that way."
"They have issues and need love," Hall added. "Love can turn around just about anything."

On May 12, the Halls went to court to formally adopt 4 1/2-year-old Ruben. They have cared for him since he was 2 months old. Ruben is developmentally delayed, has cerebral palsy, autism and seizures.

He is Hispanic, as are 20 percent of the children in United States foster care system. The Halls are African American.

The youngest in the Hall household is Aniyah, whom they adopted in December. She is now 2 and deals with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), asthma and is developmentally delayed. Her sister, Olivia, is 4 1/2 and also has FAS issues and was exposed to drugs before birth.

Their other two children are biological brothers--Dearrione and Kamerrion--who are 5 and 9 years old, respectively. Dearrione has seizures and is developmental delayed, and his brother has heart problems and mental retardation. The Halls have legal guardianship of the brothers, which has a different definition for foster care, Annie explained.

"If a foster child needs surgery and if their biological parent is not agreeing to the surgery or unavailable, the foster parent has to take the matter to the courts," she said.

"Ruben needed a hernia operation and a circumcision," she added. "We lost track of his mother. It took two weeks, but we got the court papers and took them to the hospital."

Hall is an advocate for the foster care system, talking it up in workshops, meetings, even in the supermarket checkout line.

"There is such a great need," she said. "And you don't have to be rich, or pretty--you just have to have love in your heart."

She admits that the foster care system gets a bad rap, but she hopes to help change that and help more children find "forever homes."

"Most of the kids reunite with their families, which is the ultimate goal for foster care," added Hall. "There are a lot of good foster parents out there, but you only hear about the bad ones," she said.

Eleven other children have temporarily received foster care in the Hall's home, and they have left to rejoin their biological families. Of the estimated 276,266 children who exited foster care during 2009, 51 percent were reunited with parents or primary caretakers.

Annie enjoys seeing her former charges when they visit and admitted she had a beautiful Mother's Day.

She still gets calls for help from the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS).