Picture this: It’s two o’clock in the morning and your phone rings. It’s a call from a social worker who asks you to begin caring for a child in the next hour. All you are told is the child’s name and age.
For most people, this would be unnerving, but not to Adam Arnold and Beth McNally. They are prepared for this situation since becoming licensed foster parents. They decided to specialize in emergency shelter care, which provides temporary placement for children while the county seeks other arrangements.
“We always thought about being foster parents or adopting a child,” said Beth, “so we went through Children’s Home’s training. We decided to start with emergency care because it was a need we were able to fill.”
The reasons children need emergency shelter care placements are varied. Children may be removed from their homes because of safety concerns. They may be in foster care and need a new placement. The goal of emergency shelter care is to reunify children with their birth family or to locate appropriate relatives or foster parents. The typical placement lasts 30 to 90 days. Adam and Beth currently care for two sisters, ages 7 and 8. Before this placement, they provided shelter for three siblings.
Prior to that, they had two separate placements, each lasting about a month.
Providing Stability, Comfort, Normalcy
Beth acknowledges the challenges of temporary placements. Every time a child arrives, they start from scratch — meeting new teachers and medical providers, working with new case workers, and navigating relationships with birth families.
“The last-minute nature of emergency placement makes everything urgent at the beginning; it is hard on the kids,” Beth said. “Every child comes with some kind of trauma. Sometimes it’s from witnessing violence or being separated from relatives. They might be afraid of a certain gender or race.”
In addition to being a licensed foster family (a requirement for providing emergency shelter care), both Beth and Adam are also licensed psychotherapists. Adam says this background has been helpful, informing them about the trauma of being separated from birth family. Despite their professional background, they make a point to draw a line between their professional and personal lives.
Becoming a “For Now” Family
Adam and Beth treat every child in their home as family, not guests. “We are their ‘for now’ family,” said Adam. Nothing in the house is off limits — the children naturally gravitate to playing with their dogs. They have also set up a basement area with heated blankets, games, and a TV for hanging out with friends.
“The enjoyment I get from these kids is more than I expected,” Beth said. “I’m always sad when they leave, but it’s so energizing when there are happy endings and they get to go back to their families. We feel good that we can be a stepping stone in the life of a child, simply by opening our home.”