HANAHAN—Caryl Meier said she and her husband Marty became foster parents because just having a job wasn’t enough.
She felt drawn to do more.
Mrs. Meier said she always loved children. At first she has thought about working at a hospital, caring for babies born addicted to drugs or alcohol. But she knew that would be heartbreaking because she’d want to bring them all home.
So that’s what she did — found a way to bring children in need home.
For Mr. Meier, the decision was much simpler.
“She drove me to it,” he said with a grin. “I came home one day and she said ‘We’re going to do foster care’ and that was it.”
It has been about 20 years since then, and the couple, who are members of Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan, has brought more children into their home than they can count.
The Meiers said they started with the Department of Social Services, and then about 12 years ago they signed on with the S.C. Youth Advocate Program, which helps children with emotional or physical handicaps.
Most of these youth are older, usually teenagers, and all have behavioral issues of some type, Mrs. Meier said, such as autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, or trauma associated with abuse.
Maureen Hinson, a foster care licensing supervisor for DSS in Charleston County, said that is the nature of foster care.
“Children come to us because they’ve been through trauma, whether it’s abuse or neglect,” Hinson said. “There are lots of emotions with these children.”
She has found that most people think about becoming a foster parent for a couple of years, carefully weighing the pros and cons, before contacting them.
Once DSS receives a call from a prospective foster parent, Hinson said they discuss the basics of what the program does and who it serves. Next they have a face-to-face interview to answer questions and talk about what to expect.
The final step is 14 hours of pre-service training to learn about a multitude of issues and how to handle certain behaviors.
The Meiers said they employ a tag-team system of humor and praise along with a highly structured environment and consistent consequences.
“I’m the comedian and she’s the warden,” he said.
All joking aside, Mr. Meier has high praise for his wife.
“She does it so well. She was made for this,” he said.
Mrs. Meier was the oldest of six children and said she grew up caring for her siblings. Mr. Meier was the eighth of nine, and said he has a completely different perspective as the one who was always getting into things.
They are active in the church and have a strong belief in teaching children to earn what they receive. Mr. Meier was a petty officer first class in the U.S. Navy and now owns and operates Affordable Landscaping. He said many of his teenage foster children have worked with him in the business.
How long these children remain in the home depends on a number of factors.
Mrs. Meier said their first goal is to work with the birth parents in a therapeutic program so the child can return home. But that doesn’t always work, and some remain with them for many years.
Kathy Schmugge, assistant director with the diocesan office of family life, said they are completely supportive of any program that helps children. Schmugge said she has the utmost respect for people who give of themselves in such a selfless way.
“With foster care, you’re going to have some serious issues most of the time,” she said. “These people are saints.”
The Meiers agree it is a tough calling, but said the rewards are worth it.
“We’re not a one-strike-and-you’re-out family. People are going to make mistakes,” Mr. Meier said.
More than once, the police have been to their door looking for a troubled foster child. The Meiers said that is a reality of what they do, but they also have tons of success stories.
Many of their foster children are still in touch with them. One young man told Mr. Meier he was the closest thing to a father he ever had, and calls him every father’s day.
Another child named the couple as the most inspiring people in her life.
The couple said their foster children are family, just like their two birth children and two grandchildren.
They believe everybody has the potential to foster, and can vouch for the fact that foster parents are greatly needed.
Mrs. Meier said there were plenty of times when a particularly difficult case made her think she just couldn’t do it anymore, but then she’d get a call from the foster program and her heart would open again.
“It’s really difficult to turn these children away; they’re just having such a hard time,” she said.
At DSS, Hinson said they are always looking for new foster parents. Once someone is qualified, they can renew their license every two years, and some people have been involved for over 30 years.
“Fostering is volunteering to be a parent to our children in need,” she said. “It’s a very worthwhile calling.”