Susan Spalding is the mother of nine children.
After having birthed and raised their own five children, Spalding and her husband decided to start fostering. This desire, Spalding says, came after her grandchild went into foster care in Florida. The state of Florida would not allow her grandson move to Tennessee until her house was approved to house foster children.
“The easiest way to get it approved was to take the classes and get approved as a foster parent, and then I said, ‘Well, we’re not doing anything else, we might as well take kids in,’” Spalding said.
This seemingly nonchalant decision to foster children, instigated by her own grandson, blossomed into more than a decade of fostering, adopting and, ultimately, leading to her 15-year tenure as president of the Blount County Foster Parent Association.
As of May, Blount County had 216 foster care cases, accounting for just over 25% of the region, Prevention Supervisor at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Rob Burke reported in a June DCS Community Advisory Board meeting.
Burke also reported the breakdown of reasons children were brought into state custody. For the month of May, there were 100 cases of neglect, 92 cases of drug-exposed children, 22 cases of physically harmed children, 37 cases of psychologically harmed children and 14 sexually abused children. Additionally in May, there was one death of a child from abuse or neglect.
Often, children brought into state custody are lacking basic clothing, such as socks and underwear, before they are placed in foster homes.
“They come with nothing,” Spalding said.
These children, even after they are placed and sometimes adopted, still experience trauma from their former homes. Because of this, trauma therapy is necessary for foster children. In addition to therapy, the foster children and parents also have to go to court and several doctor’s appointments. This can be a trying time for foster parents.
“It’s a long journey and what happens is people give up on the children,” Spalding said.
Spalding believes that being a foster parent is a calling and that not all people can do it, saying that to replace trauma with trust, a child must experience a longer amount of time in a safe home than he or she experienced in an unsafe home.
“(Parents) have to see the bigger picture,” Spalding said as she reflected on many of the foster families she has met over the past 15 years.
Currently there are 85 foster families for the 216 foster children in Blount County.
Joe Starbuck, a foster parent in Blount County, implores other families to consider fostering. “We desperately need foster parents,” Starbuck said. “Desperately.”
The Daily Times reported on a neglect case in May. A Maryville woman left her two daughters in the bathtub unattended for 10-12 minutes. When she returned, she found her children unresponsive.
The 15 month-old child passed away later that evening. The 20 day-old baby was in critical condition before recovering enough to be released into the state’s custody.
These cases can seem heavy to the average person, but not to Spalding, who, even after 15 years of these experiences and stories, firmly believes in the good of the people around her.
“I don’t look for the bad, so I don’t get the bad.”
Amid tax raises and a budget changes that will address the Alcoa’s future concerns — including a focus on city employees and lost revenue — the city advanced an ordinance to address a few extra fiscal 2019 spending initiatives.
Commissioners unanimously voted to pass on first reading an ordinance approving $1,184,150 in appropriations based on fiscal changes in the general and drug funds, a general purpose schools net increase and tweaked revenue estimates.
City Manager Mark Johnson told commissioners they usually pass this kind of ordinance later in the year but that the comptroller now requires them hold the vote before June 30.
Revisions to 2018-19 budget included $250,000 for an municipal building HVAC system, $805,000 for Alcoa Middle School engineering, architect and consultant expenditures and a deferred road project.
Commissioner Jim Buchanan asked Johnson about items related to the school, voicing concerns about overspending.
“Don’t get me wrong in saying this,” Buchanan said, “We know that something has to be done at the Intermediate School ... It seems like every time we get close we tack a million dollars on ... It just seems that number keeps on growing.”
Johnson explaining the funds will be reimbursed, eventually. “Whenever that building is built and we issue bonds for that we recoup those expenses for the architecture and engineering fees.”
Plans to begin construction on the new section of the Intermediate School were delayed after bids for the $22.5 million expansion came in and the city said other elements need to fall into place for the project to continue. The school had planned to break ground at the end of May but those were put off for a year.
Commissioner Vaughn Belcher also asked Johnson about items on the list of budget changes including one that would consolidate the city’s pension plan expenditures into one account.
“That is budgeted in all the various departments,” Johnson said. “The electric department’s got a piece of it, the police department’s got a piece of it and so on. That’s the way you would typically do a pension plan that’s active.”
He said the plan under scrutiny was so old no one had been able to enroll in it since since 2000.
“There’s a fixed a money that has to be put into that plan according to ... studies. So it’s basically easier and more logical to account from one place.”
“It is still apportioned out,” he added.
The cleanup items on the ordinance overlaps as the city passed its fiscal 2020 budget on first reading in the same meeting, a proposed $161 million operating budget, a 3.01% increase from the former year, overview notes from the city’s budget workshop show.
The city plans to take a new approach at counteracting impaired revenues and updating internal systems while staying consistent with school funding with a move to raise property taxes by 31 cents, bringing it on par with Maryville’s rate.