ATHENS — The Henderson County Child Welfare Board consists of volunteer county residents striving to encourage and support children placed in foster care from sexual abuse, domestic violence or neglect situations, Justin Weiner, board chairman, said.
"We are people that make time for our community, and most importantly we love and care about children and want to make a difference in children's lives. Our goal is to try and get these kids in as normal a position as possible," Weiner said.
"Lots of them come from really bad situations. We try to make each day they are in foster care better. We are a group of vetted Henderson County residents serving in a fiduciary role to help make life better for our community's children that have fallen victim to neglect, domestic violence and sexual violence."
Board members, who must pass a background check, are appointed by the county commissioners court for varying terms on recommendation of the board. The number of board members fluctuates. There currently are 10, but there can be as many as 15.
Although independent from Child Protective Services, the welfare board, which meets monthly, serves children born in Henderson County that CPS has placed in foster care.
The majority of the children reside in foster homes in the city of Athens and within Henderson County, although the board has jurisdiction over foster children from Henderson County even if they have been placed in other parts of the state or out of state.
The board monitors the children to make sure they have what they need, Weiner said.
The board deals with a lot of reimbursement issues, Weiner said, mainly a $50 monthly allowance to help with the expense of diapers for foster children and up to $200 that can be spent on clothing for them.
There is a long list of items the board can reimburse foster parents for, including food, emergency day care, some school supplies, personal incidentals, infant/toddler supplies and occasionally the cap and gown for graduation.
The board also deals with foster children's special needs brought to its attention. For example, a child who had been removed from his parents' house — and was living with his grandparents — wrote the board asking for $50 to play in Little Dribblers basketball since his grandparents could not afford it.
The board agreed to furnish the money, Weiner said, "but the wonderful part about that story is when people found out about it, a member of the community wanted to personally write that check."
Weiner added, "Little things like that make a big difference in a kid's life. Our goal is to try and get these kids in as normal a position as possible."
In another case, the board was instrumental in arranging for a dentist to remove the braces from a foster child's teeth free of charge. The board gave Dr. Brandon Allen a certificate of appreciation for going above and beyond to help a foster child.
In another situation, the board arranged for a state fund to pay funeral expenses for a 2-year-old boy that died in foster care from a rare condition and that his foster family could not afford to pay.
If a high school student has made the cheerleading team but can't afford the $100 for the uniform, the welfare board can help, Weiner said.
In one instance, a girl wanted contacts for her senior picture so Weiner called an eye doctor who was willing to provide them.
"We get those requests through child protective service workers and through the children themselves," he said. "We talk them over and look at our budget. We look at how much money we've spent and try and make fiscally responsible and fiscally conservative decisions. We do what we can to help as much as possible."
The board has a budget of approximately $19,000 set aside for foster children of Henderson County, and every penny goes directly to the children, Weiner said.
The board provides storage service for belongings of children in child protective service until they reach the age of 18. Several people donated their time and services to sort, organize and shelve the items to properly store them in plastic/rubber tubs. Dan Winfrey built the shelves for the storage unit.
"I believe we have a duty to help ensure that whatever these kiddos are able to salvage from their broken and often abusive homes is protected until they can take care of the items themselves," Weiner said.
The welfare board also sponsors an appreciation dinner during the Christmas holidays for Child Protective Services workers and an angel tree at First State Bank in Athens to benefit foster children.
"We have a strong foundation of volunteers to help with the children," Weiner said. "We (board members) serve in a fiduciary role. We are kind of like a gatekeeper and do our best to be good stewards of taxpayer money. We've got great support from local elected officials, the commissioners court and county judge."
Weiner said he is proud to be a member of the board. "We have wonderful members of our board who dedicate a lot of time to helping kiddos."