LaPlace couple opens their hearts and homes to foster kids

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — David and Shirley Buchanan of LaPlace have an extended family common to very few other exceptional people in America. Though their own biological children are grown, they often have six children living in their home at one time.

The Buchanans are certified as a Diagnostic & Assessment home for the Thibodaux Region Office of Community Services, which means their home is one used to provide intensive, temporary, and preliminary services for children entering the Office of Community Services care.

The Buchanans are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to take in the children and make emergency assessments.

“We decide if they need to go to an institution or we’ll say, ‘oh, this child should not return back home,'” Shirley said.

The kids stay between 30 to 90 days, but the Buchanan’s also have three “full-time” children who have been there between two and four years.

Initially certified as a foster home in 2000, the Buchanans switched to a D&A home and have since cared for more than 60 children. The Buchanans are now being honored as The Department of Social Services Office of Community Services Foster Parents of the Year for 2005.

When asked how their involvement came about, David said both he and his wife had children from their first marriages, but when they got remarried to each other they felt they did not have a lot of quality time to spend with their kids.

When David came to the area to get a job in the refineries, they bought a house and remodeled it, but the couple said it felt “empty.”

When the couple started to take walks in the evening, one particular residence caught their attention. A house where there were a lot of kids.

“And that house just looked better with those kids coming in and out,” said David, “It looked like a home, so to speak.”

After Shirley’s sister adopted a family of four in Texas, the couple said they “got a taste of it that way”.and they took a six-week course to get certified as a foster home in they year 2000.

“It’s just been peaks and valleys ever since,” said David.

Tangela Smith, Child Welfare Specialist II for the Office of Community Services, said that the Buchanan’s “do what is required and more as foster parents.

“They give the children consistency and structure.”

Shirley said that at typical day at the Buchanan house starts when the children rise in the morning to get themselves ready for school. When they come home, the family has an early dinner and then they do homework for an hour. The rest of the night consists of family time; including walks with Dave, and visits with “Ellie, the foster dog.” Bedtime is at 9 p.m., except for weekends, when thy can stay up ’til 10 p,m,

Smith also said she admires the Buchanans for their fearless dedication to taking in whatever child is sent to them.

“They have no choice in the children they look after ,unless the child is violent,” Smith said, “they take it all, all behaviors, needs, problems, we don’t have many people willing do that.”

According to Smith, there are about 95 certified foster/ adoptive homes, but the Buchanans have the only certified D & A home in the Thibodaux Region, which covers the River Parishes as well as Lafourche, Assumption and Terrebonne parishes.

Shirley gets emotional when she speaks about it.

“I do wish their were more foster parents,” she said, “there are 7,000 kids out here that need foster homes”

Shirley tearfully expressed concern about one of her foster children.

“She really doesn’t have any major problems, but she’ll probably end up going into a group home, just because nobody wants teens and nobody wants older kids.”

“It’s as hard as you think,” she said, “so many of these kids get thrown away.”

The Buchanan’s have seen the challenges that come along with a task like the one they have chosen to take on. Shirley said the hardest part is hearing some of the stories about some the things they’ve been through. The couple has even experienced the frustration and anguish that come with hearing one of their former foster children committed suicide.

Regardless of the adversities, both the Buchanan’s express the joy that fostering brings to their lives.

“The most fun thing is the colors,” Shirley said, “We let the children pick out things. One little boy picked out our table in the kitchen. The children pick flowers for our flower garden. They picked the color of the house. One room is purple and green and blue. One bathroom is all in fish.

“You get to see things through a child’s eyes and wake up your own child that’s inside you, and it’s OK to paint the color of your wall any color you want to paint it.”

David said that the walks and playing with Ellie, the foster dog, is how he spends quality time with them.

He also said he enjoys simple things like washing the pick-ups on the weekend and taking them to the dollar store to spend their allowance money. He said his two daughters helped him pick out a suit one weekend.

“He’s the one that goes to ring ceremonies and graduations and outside things, and I’m like the one that stays home and does other things,” Shirley said.

“Yeah, she’s the peas on the dinner plate, and I’m the cookies and ice cream,” said David.

David said that he tries to a standard for them to know what to expect out of life and what you can get out of life, or what life should be like.

Shirley said teaches them that you get back what you put in.

“I always tell them, if you plant weeds, you’re not going to get roses, or that no matter where you came from, it’s like the map at the mall that point ‘you are here,’ and from there you can go anywhere you want.

“It doesn’t matter where you started, you can still get to Dillard’s from here.”

The Buchanan’s will not be on the luncheon that will award them for being outstanding foster parents.

“I didn’t do this to get involved in an association or go to social lunches,” Shirley said, “Every time I go to a meeting I just think, ‘ I could be home making cookies with the kids.'”