Wherever Bernice Jackson goes, there is sure to be a trail of children following “Nana.” Two of the children are mute. One is blind. Others have different disabilities. Some are black. Some are white. And some are Latino.
“We have the full rainbow of children,” Bernice says. “And we love them all the same.”
When it came time for Bernice to retire 12 years ago, she and her husband, Robert Jackson, decided that the best use of their golden years would be serving as foster parents for children with special needs.
“My career was spent working with mentally handicapped adults, and I missed helping them,” Bernice says. “I knew that children with special needs in the foster system were hard to place. So, the Lord just put it on our hearts to help them. We said, ‘We’re too blessed to just let these children float around in the system.’”
Ever since Bernice and her husband made that decision, they have perpetually had at least a handful of special needs children in foster care living in their home. Right now, they have eight.
Bernice says she wouldn’t be able to help so many children if it wasn’t for the Foster Care Clinic at Children’s.
“If I didn’t have this clinic, I couldn’t have all of my children’s needs met in one place,” she says.
A program unlike any other
The Foster Care Clinic, which started more than 20 years ago at Children’s, is the only hospital-based foster care clinic in Texas.
Since more than half of all children in foster care have chronic medical conditions, other specialties like asthma and clinical nutrition often need to be involved. Being based at Children’s allows the clinic to meet all of the medical needs of children in foster care without having to refer them elsewhere.
“Our model is a multidisciplinary model where we also train future pediatric healthcare professionals how to care for children in foster care,” Dr. Anu Partap, medical director of the Foster Care Clinic, says. “We spend a lot of time with families. Our team looks for past medical records and works with CPS to try to keep track of our patients so they can continue to heal throughout their time in the foster care system.”
The clinic is also working with Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) to create training curriculum for their staff on monitoring the special healthcare needs of children in foster care.
“If it works for them, we hope it can become a model for other CASA centers throughout Texas,” Dr. Partap says.
“They meet all my needs”
There are currently about 500,000 children in foster care in the United States, and around 5,000 of those live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. So, approximately one out of every 100 children in foster care nationally lives in the backyard of Children’s. And the Foster Care Clinic is the only program equipped to meet all of those children’s unique medical needs.
Bernice Jackson regularly drives from Burleson, Texas to bring her eight children in foster care to the clinic.
“It’s worth me driving 100 miles roundtrip to bring my children to the Foster Care Clinic,” she says. “Without this clinic, foster children in Texas would be in trouble.”
With the help of the Foster Care Clinic, Bernice has been able to make a significant difference in the lives of the special-needs children she has fostered.
“There have been children who have been in the foster system for 10 or 12 years who, after being in her home a year or two, have gone on to be adopted because people finally saw how beautiful the children really were – the way that Bernice sees them,” Dr. Partap says. “She even had a child who had never walked learn to walk at the age of 6 after spending time in her home.”
Bernice said she plans on continuing to be a foster parent “until my health won’t allow it.” She also says, though, that she couldn’t be the foster parent she wants to be without the help of the Foster Care Clinic.
“I really couldn’t do what I do for my children without this clinic,” she said. “It’s an absolute necessity. They meet all my needs.”