- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) - Life on the road is what many children in the foster care system experience between home visits, therapy and court dates.

According to Child and Family Services Supervisor Byran Allen of the Department of Health and Human Services in Kearney, transportation services are vital part of helping caseworkers to ensure foster kids are going to the places they need to go such as to home visitations, doctor appointments and court.

Camelot Transportation is one of the services that does the transporting so DHHS can do its work.

“They are vital to our caseworkers and to the kids,” Allen said.

The Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1RqbkwS ) reports that Camelot is based in Kearney but provides statewide transportation services and employs 50 to 60 drivers all over the state.

Transporting children from one location to the next can be an opportunity to set a child up for success with the help of concerned drivers like Gary and Angela Wiles of Kearney. They have worked for Camelot Transportation for three years and are passionate about getting their clients from point A to point B with a little encouragement.

“The kids who come into our care have been through enough. We want the kids and teens to know they’re safe. We introduce ourselves and try to get to know a little about them. Sometimes, they talk and sometimes they don’t,” Angela said. She said the youths who are in the system never really know what to expect, so she tells them what to expect when they get into her van.

“There were two little boys, brothers, we were picking up from foster care in one city to visit their biological mom in another town a couple hours away. The littlest boy asked us who we were, and if they were supposed to go with us. He had been learning about stranger danger and wondered why he had to come with us to see mom,” she said.

After a bit of explanation and introduction, both of the boys settled into their car seats, ready to go for a ride.

“Most of the time, the parents or foster parents pack things for the kids to play with as well as snacks,” Gary said. However, additional stipends allow the drivers to stop and get a food like a Happy Meal for the kids and teens. Like the Wiles, others who work for Camelot are the eyes and ears in the field for foster kids.

Camelot Driver Supervisor Brenda Noyes said there are tough moments for drivers. “Sometimes, they witness things that indicate neglect or abuse and have to go through the process of reporting it,” she said.

Driver Blaine Hooper has been working at Camelot for 10 years. He said the longest transports he has taken has been to places such as Oklahoma, Kentucky and even Utah.

“The kids we transport get a little lonesome for home. I’m glad we can transport them so they can see their parents, and it seems to help to go home to visit mom and dad,” he said. Hooper said the hard part is picking the kids up to take back to their foster home or group home.

“They don’t want to leave, and it’s tough. We work with them and remind them we will take them back to visit the next time,” he said. Hooper offers as much encouragement as possible during his transports, and he’s never thought it made any difference until recently.

“I’ve met kids who have aged out of the system in places like grocery stores and they tell me, ‘I remember you. You transported me. You helped me a lot and made those times a lot easier,’” Hooper said.

Hooper said it’s the youngest children who touch his life the most. “I’ve transported infants before, but it’s the little ones that touch my heart. They don’t really know what’s going on. They’re scared, so I talk to them, I ask them about their family, and calm them down. It’s also rewarding to see these kids get reunited for their parents for good,” he said.

Camelot has been in the community since 1997. In 2015, it transported more than 22,000 clients.

“When I was looking at this business in the realm of service industry I realized how transportation is something that is definitely forgotten. You’ve got your courts, caseworker, counselor, doctors. They all talk to each other and create plans for the kids and then they think, ‘How are we going to get Jimmy from McCook to Buffalo County? What caseworker is going to have four hours out of their day to go travel? I feel that transportation services is the gap that’s forgotten about, but it’s vital to the clients we serve,” Manager Alissa Kern said. She has a dual degrees in family services and business.

Kern said the safety of the drivers and their clients is their first priority.

“Our drivers are carefully handpicked and go through several background checks, and each driver gets to take one of our vehicles home, so they can be ready to go at a moment’s notice,” Kern said.


Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

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