By ALYSE THOMPSONHerald-Whig Staff Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- Ron and Doris Durk got the call to be foster parents at 2 a.m.
Doris woke to hear the words "foster care" come from the Durks' television set which, after 24 years, they still don't think had been left on.
The Durks had seen other Chaddock commercials seeking foster homes, but the early September morning advertisement was just the push they needed.
"When I heard that," Doris said, "I woke (Ron) up and I said, ‘I just heard on TV they're wanting foster parents,' and he said, ‘You call them tomorrow.' "
According to Doris, she wasn't the only one to have done some calling.
"We had a calling by God to come into foster care," she said.
For the last 2 1/2 decades, the Durks have answered that call by hosting more than 150 foster children for periods of a few days up to five years. Now, representatives of Chaddock's Foster and Adoption Services program hope families from Quincy and surrounding Illinois communities will join the Durks in being licensed foster parents.
The program, which manages about 80 foster homes, needs parents who would be willing to host children on a short-term basis and children who are over the age of 10. Chaddock licensing manager Scott Wheelock said older children can seem physically larger and more independent to foster parents, sometimes making placement more of a challenge.
Regardless of the child's age or situation, foster parents undergo training and other preparations before hosting a child. Training includes a nine-week licensing course presented by the Department of Child and Family Services, physicals, background checks and home studies to ensure a secure environment. Chaddock also will verify potential parents' financial background and ask for non-relative references.
"This is to take care of these children," Wheelock said, adding the program puts children in "safe, reliable" homes until, ideally, whatever prompted the child's removal from their biological parents' care is resolved. Substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and emotional, physical or sexual abuse by or between parents are among the circumstances children in foster care have faced.
The reality of those circumstances came as a surprise to Doris at first.
"You really have to care and love kids, and you have to try to understand because these kids are troubled youths," she said. "They haven't had real good homes."
"The toughest thing in the world when you get into this is trying to put yourself into these kids' shoes," Ron said. "Trying to realize what they went through and (trying) to help them through this, because it's not easy."
For the Mendon couple, Chaddock's first set of foster parents, bringing so many children into their home has been worth it.
"It's very rewarding," Doris said. "It's special to know that you help them, that they appreciate it. We have kids make comments to us that bring tears to your eyes. It's been great."
The appreciation shown by former placements didn't stop when they left the Durks' home. Ron and Doris have been invited to graduations and receive occasional phone calls. Doris still receives Mother's Day flowers -- and Ron gets Father's Day cards -- from a pair of brothers they hosted for about five years.
The Durks were recognized in 2012 with the SAM Foster Parent Award, given in honor of Samantha June Otte to foster parents who support children with complex medical and emotional needs.
While foster parents are provided with financial help based on the age and needs of the child, both Ron and Doris stressed that it shouldn't be a driving factor in taking on that role.
"If you're getting in it specifically for the money, don't get in it," Ron said. "You have to want to do this and feel like you're going to help these kids."
The need is there, according to data compiled by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. Investigations into 108,609 potential child abuse and neglect cases across the state in fiscal 2013 found that 29,934 of them were credible. Nearly 4,500 protective custodies were taken that year.
Chaddock has 127 children in foster care, and in fiscal 2013, 29 children were reunited with their families -- which is the goal, Wheelock said.
"If a child can go home, they should go home," he said.
Until that's possible, if it is, Chaddock will rely on the support of foster families like the Durks.
"It's very rewarding if you really want to do it and you love people and really care about what happens to them," Doris said.
For more information on Chaddock Foster and Adoption Services, call 217-222-0034 ext. 450 or visit chaddock.org.