JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Sitting next to her 5-year-old brother, Megan Palmer tried to remain calm and composed as complete strangers drove them away from a friend’s house.
Palmer, then 14, would soon learn she was entering the foster care system. The pair was reunited with their 10-year-old brother at the Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke, which provides temporary and long-term housing to children, The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1H0MhOv ) reported.
“That was probably the hardest day of my life,” Palmer, 22, recalled. “I walked in with both of my brothers on each side of me, just holding their hands. We sat at this table and the lady who runs that shelter was just going over the rules with us kids.
“She said, ‘OK. One of the first rules is there is no physical contact,’ and my heart broke,” she recalled. “I just broke down in tears because, I’m like, I can never hug my brothers, kiss them good night or anything like that.”
Nearly eight years later, Palmer said that traumatic experience helped her discover her passion. The Arkansas State University graduate is a newly hired Craighead County foster care case worker.
Palmer entered foster care in July 2007. She attributed it to her parents’ substance abuse problems.
“I can remember throughout my childhood there would be times we wouldn’t have the water on or there would be times we wouldn’t have electricity, so we would have to stay with friends, family,” she added. “I just remember always staying at my friend’s house, like, all the time growing up.”
Once in foster care, Palmer said it helped that they remained in their hometown, Lonoke, and schools.
“I think that’s what really made me resilient compared to a lot of foster kids. They do not get to stay in the same town or go to the same school during their foster experience,” she said. “They are constantly moving.”
Palmer began high school in August, and stayed busy with cheerleading, band and flag line.
“I had to put on a face that everything was OK when really it wasn’t,” she said. “I’m telling you, living at the shelter was so hard. I cried myself to sleep every night. You would only get limited phone calls with people, so there were a few friends they let me get on the list. I don’t have a lot of family.”
Her stepfather’s parents, who also lived in Lonoke, were allowed to foster her brothers a few months later, although the shelter’s bus still took them to and from school. They later adopted her brothers.
A few days before Christmas 2007, her best friend’s family welcomed her into their home. Palmer said she still considers it home - it is the place she returns to for weekend visits and holidays.
“They were also one of the families we would go to and stay with when we didn’t have electricity,” she said. “They are just a really awesome, godly family.”
Palmer credits her foster care experience for her relationship with God and for getting her to where she is today.
The great need she sees in Craighead County is for more foster homes, especially for siblings.
“People who can take sibling groups are so important because those sibling bonds, I’m telling you, are so close,” she added. “I had my internship at DHS and whenever we had to separate sibling groups, it just broke my heart because I just think back on my experience and how hard it was …
“The older siblings . basically turn into moms and dads to their siblings. When they don’t have that anymore, it’s hard,” she added. “Of course, you don’t want them to take on that role, but when you have had to do it for so long, it would be really, really hard on them.”
Until that need lessens, Palmer hopes she can provide those siblings relief.
“I know I can build a relationship with the foster kids I am going to interact with,” she added, “because I have literally been there and been through it.”
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com
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