By JAMIE HIMES
Did you know that in the United States, more than 20,000 youth exit the foster care system every year without a family?
They have no one to call, no support, and no soft place to fall when life gets crazy.
When thinking about foster care or adoption, people don’t usually consider teenagers, but Mississippi has 3,800 children in foster care, including so many wonderful teenagers in desperate need of a home.
Between the ages of 10 and 25 years old, the brain undergoes changes that impact behavior forever. During these years, meaningful relationships can have a lasting and positive impact on teenagers’ lives. You can shape and rewire young brains with your connection and relationship. Teens aren’t hopeless. They are not a lost cause. With love and support, teens can learn, love, and blossom into the people God meant them to be.
Unfortunately, without love and permanent support, studies show teens are at an increased risk for homelessness, young parenthood, low educational attainment, high unemployment rates, and other adverse adult outcomes.
But there’s good news! It only takes one person to improve these odds for a young person.
The McLarty family was led to foster older children, and their story is a true testament of how one family can make a difference in a child’s life.
Evie and Bill McLarty were “sweethearts” in their church youth group and have been married over 28 years. Together they’ve raised four biological children ages 26, 23, 22 and 17 years old. From early on, both Bill and Evie were interested in fostering therapeutic children but originally felt too young and inexperienced as parents to foster.
“This is something we both felt led to do,” Bill says. “(But) we found it very challenging and knew therapeutic children would have behavioral problems more than typical children.”
Years later, because of work, they decided to move to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. This is where they first met Tana Walker, senior recruitment specialist with Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, Inc. (SCSCY), and began seriously considering fostering therapeutic children.
Within six months of meeting Tana, Evie and Bill completed the SCSCY foster care training program. On the day Bill turned in the last document to complete their foster care licensing, Tana showed him a file for a girl named Carmen. The McLartys looked over Carmen’s information that night, prayed about it, and decided to take a leap of faith.
A few weeks later, they and their two youngest children drove to Jackson to meet Carmen. She looked directly into their eyes and said, “Are y’all going to adopt me or what?”
Bill responded, “I guess we are!”
A few weeks later, Carmen came to Ocean Springs for Thanksgiving break and was introduced to the rest of the family. Shortly after the Thanksgiving visit, she moved into the McLartys’ home and was adopted on October 20, 2016.
In the months leading up to Carmen’s adoption, the McLartys decided to foster a second child named McKailey, who was 9 years old. She moved into their home August 5, 2016, and was adopted on October 5, 2017.
Over the next several years, Bill and Evie continued to help Mississippi’s foster care system by assisting with therapeutic children. Eventually the McLartys realized that God wasn’t finished growing their family, so they met with Tana again about adopting more children.
A few months later, Bill and Evie were told about two brothers, Chris and Michael, who needed an adoptive home. Chris was an immediate placement, but Michael could not be placed until he finished a treatment program in north Mississippi.
Bill and Evie only knew how to raise girls. They were nervous and not sure how two boys would fit into their lifestyle. After much prayer and discernment, they decided to proceed. Chris moved into the McLartys’ home the following weekend (November 21, 2018) and was the most polite and charismatic child they had ever met. He was nurturing, kindhearted, and had an undeniable bond with his brother Michael.
Even though Michael was in treatment in north Mississippi, Chris was always eager to talk to him, either on the phone or by FaceTime. “We were able to set up a day visit with Michael on December 8, 2018, and I’ve never seen such joy on a kid’s face,” Bill says.
Unlike Chris, Michael (9 years old) needed therapeutic attention. Bill and Evie met with Michael’s therapist and had daily conversations about his care. Together with Michael’s treatment team, they decided to have him visit for a long weekend. After spending the entire Christmas break together, the McLartys knew Michael was the right fit for their family. Michael moved into their home on March 5, 2019, and both boys were adopted on February 19, 2020.
Since the adoption was finalized, life has changed a lot, especially with COVID-19. The first few weeks were challenging for the McLarty family. COVID made the transition hard as they juggled both school and work.
“Getting into a routine was the most challenging, but we know that takes time for any family,” Bill says. “We still have good days and bad days, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s the hardest and most beautiful thing we’ve ever done.”
Southern Christian is honored to be a part of the McLarty story. The McLarty family has blessed us far more than we could ever express, and we are so grateful to have been able to work with them to create a forever home for these children.
It’s natural to fear the unknown. Frequently asked questions usually include: Will I have support from professionals? Is there specialized training to help make our story a success? Will a teen even want to be fostered or adopted? The answer to all these questions is YES.
Please contact SCSCY at scscy.org or call 601-354-0983 for more information about how you can change a Mississippi child’s life forever.
Jamie Himes is president and CEO of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth. She is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and brings more than 20 years clinical experience to SCSCY. Prior to joining Southern Christian, Jamie managed clinical operations for Arkansas’ largest children’s home campus. Jamie and her husband, Bryant, are proud parents and active in their local community through the Junior League of Jackson, PGA of America Gulf States Section, The Rotary Club of Jackson, and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. She and her family live in Jackson.