Profiles in Parenting: Vera Watts and Jeanetta Woods
“Profiles in Parenting”
By Sangine Howard
April 25, 2010
Edited by Intisar Seraaj
Updated June 28, 2016
Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. (SFH) has solidified itself as a leader in Specialized Foster Care by being able to provide quality service 24/7 to all clients and families. However, none of this would be possible without one of the agency’s most valued possessions: the Professional Family Teacher [what we call foster parents at SFH]. These selfless individuals not only open up their homes but they open up their hearts to children in need. One of the most amazing and recurrent themes that you will find among these caregivers is the pride they all have in the work they perform. Recently, while interviewing some of the Seraaj MVP’s, I asked a few simple questions. I received several profound answers.
Recently, I was blessed with an opportunity to sit and talk with two SFH [foster parents] whose names are Vera Watts and Jeanetta Woods. These two remarkable women have a combined total of more than 55 years in providing unconditional care to children in need. Remarkably, both women quickly stated that what they do is not “fostering”. Their obligation is “teaching and healing the entire child” all while reconnecting them to the community. Both women also agree that caring for children is something that cannot be taken lightly. In fact, they say it is a calling and that it takes a lot of soul searching for anyone who is interested in this line of work.
Watts has been caring for children for more than 40 years. She has been a Professional Family Teacher (PFT or foster parent) with SFH for 15 years. Watts was one of the first SFH PFTs in the Birmingham, Alabama region. As a former foster child herself, Watts has an innate ability to not only care for the child, she also has the ability to understand and handle many emotions that the children who come into her care are exhibiting. She also has the insight and the patience to help the children in her care reconnect with their biological family members. Throughout the interview, Watts states that her duty is not to change the child or the family; her goal is to teach everyone in the child’s life an alternate way of living.
Watts stated that since she has been a PFT she has parented a total of 81 children and that she maintains contact with each and every one. She has three biological children who were raised along with the children she fostered. However, Watts stated that she did not make a difference between her biological or foster children. Her ability to do this is due to her own life experiences. Watts said she has enjoyed working for SFH because she is never alone. Many agencies simply drop the child off with the foster parent and they receive no assistance after 5 p.m. However at SFH, you have direct access to anyone who is a member of the child’s treatment team 24/7. If the problems cannot be resolved, the also has a direct line to the CEO, who responds immediately.
Watts stated that in order to become a successful PFT, one must have the ability and the willingness to learn new techniques, research, report and talk with all who are involved in the child’s’ life. She also states that connecting the children with the community, communication, patience and working with the treatment team are some of the keys to helping children in foster care lead productive lives.
Watts constantly encourages the children that she cares for to join after school clubs and teams. By encouraging this type of behavior the children can begin to make new friends and, more importantly, they know they are a part of the community, stated Watts. She uses these activities to help the children reconnect with their biological family members. This is done by inviting and encouraging the biological family to see the child participate in these activities. The most important aspect of being a PFT is to reconnect the child and the biological family to each other and the community, said Watts. By doing this, it will ensure that the family will continue to bond, progress and, most importantly, have an improved quality of life.
Another PFT who works towards reconnecting children in foster care with their biological families is Jeanetta Woods. According to Woods and Watts, in order to be a PFT and not just an ordinary foster parent you must be willing and able to help the whole child, which includes biological parents and siblings reconnecting, using available resources and finding alternate ways of living that will enhance their quality of life.
Woods encourages her foster child and their biological family to talk on the phone with each other as much as possible. Woods [has gone as far as] inviting her foster child’s sister to go on vacation with them. Woods says that going the extra mile will ensure that the child knows and understands that he or she is loved and that you care about those they care about. As the daughter of a minister and a child of a large family, she was always encouraged to lend a hand to those in need.
Woods is the mother of a Social Worker for the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources in Alabama. Her daughter inspired her to make a difference by fostering; Woods often sits and listens to her daughter talk about how difficult it is was to find good homes for her clients.
“After a lot of prayer and speaking with my children, we decided to foster,” said Woods.
She thought about the good and bad aspects of tremendous tasks she was about to take, and made sure that she talked with her family about fostering and their willingness to help and participate. She also began establishing a support system that would benefit her, her family and the child that would be in her care. Ultimately, Woods knew fostering was for her when she realized that she had completed many of the steps of Group Preparation and Selection Training (GPS) training. In accordance with GPS at SFH, Woods was on the right track and she didn’t even know it.
GPS is a 10-week course that all PFTs and adoptive parents must attend, actively participate in [and graduate from] before they are allowed to adopt or [foster] a child. During the 10-week session, the prospective adoptive and foster parents are taught about many of the behaviors that are associated with children who have been abused and neglected. The prospective foster and adoptive parents are also educated about the goals of foster care, which are to reunify the child with his or her biological family. GPS is also used to assess the prospective foster parent’s ability to care for a child who may have severe emotional or behavioral issues. During GPS each prospective foster and adoptive parent has to assess the strengths and needs of themselves and their families, which will allow everyone involved to have a plan set in place to ensure a smooth transition into fostering.
Going through the 10-week course was very beneficial for Woods, stating that she learned a great deal about herself. [She realize she has had] a blessed life. She has four children, and was married 28 years until her husband [passed away] due to complications from Leukemia. Furthermore, Woods has used fostering as a way of healing herself and the child in her care.
“When you are with Seraaj, you are never alone,” said Woods. “Everyone involved with the agency has a genuine care and concern about the child and the PFT. When you are with Seraaj, it does not matter what time the clock may say. If there is a question or concern, someone is always there. At Seraaj, your calls are answered faster than immediately.”
According to Woods, she has never worked for a company where the CEO is accessible and where he encourages the PFTs to communicate their ideas. Woods is also impressed with by everyone, including staff and the children in foster care, having access to the CEO’s personal cell phone number and email address. Woods stated that it is a requirement that all numbers are posted in the child’s bedroom and on the refrigerators. This is done to ensure that the child knows that SFH is there to help and that someone will be there whenever anyone calls. Woods says that SFH is the only agency she knows that has a nonprofit foundation (Al-Hajj, Inc.) that’s sole goal is to provide assistance to foster children and PTFs.
Al-Hajj, Inc. is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization that was created in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. This organization was created by Abdul and Nadiyah Seraaj to help those who were underserved in the community. Before there was a SFH, Al-Hajj, Inc. was advocating for victims of abuse and providing free counseling services for those in need. Al-Hajj, Inc. provides support to foster children and PFTs by paying for school clothes, school supplies, birthday, anniversary, graduation and Christmas gifts, afterschool tutoring, summer camps, foster care conventions and various other items needed to ensure improved quality of life. Another valued service that Al-Hajj, Inc. provides is adoption services. If a PFT wants to adopt a child in their care, Al-Hajj, Inc. will aide in this process as well as educate and encourage all involved at no cost.