Ms. Shelby Gives Up on No Child
Champaign Foster Parent Opens Home to Teens

Eye on LSSI, Spring 2006 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

Ladine with one of her former foster children, Candice Johnson. 'If it was not for [Ladine], I wouldn’t be here,' says Candice.Teenage boys with bruised childhoods are not on top of every foster mother’s wish list, unless that foster mother is Ms. Ladine Shelby.

Ladine, often referred to as “Ms. Shelby,” is a foster parent for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). She has given help and hope to many children, including teenage boys. “Whenever a family was in trouble and the kids needed somewhere to go, they knew they could come to my house,” says the soft-spoken grandmother, seated comfortably in the living room of her tidy home in Champaign. “Kids always gravitated to my house.”

Anthony Moffitt was one of those kids. “She was always positive and always had time to talk to me,” he says. “She made me change the way I looked at things and pursue something better. I try to get in touch with my kids the way she did with me. She has a major impact on the lives of the children she takes care of.”

A resident of Champaign County for 42 years, Ladine became a licensed foster parent with Children’s Home and Aid Society (CHASI) in 1986. In October 2002, LSSI acquired most of CHASI’s programs in Champaign. Ladine Shelby made the transition and has been working with LSSI ever since.

The goal of LSSI’s foster care program is to give children a loving and secure place to go when their homes are anything but. Foster care protects the child and at the same time works with the family toward the ultimate goal of family reunification. If that cannot happen, sometimes adoption is an alternative.

LSSI looks for foster parents with a desire and commitment to care for and work with children, the ability to work as part of a team, and the willingness to support a child’s ties to the birth family and reunification efforts whenever possible.

A Home for Teenage Boys

Ladine often takes in teenage boys needing help, a difficult population to place in foster care. Youth age 16 and older make up 18 percent of children in foster care nationwide. Foster children who stay with Ladine Shelby eventually grow up and leave home, but many return for advice, guidance and more love. One grown foster daughter, Candice Jackson, says Ladine “makes everybody feel like this is home. It’s the love she gives. Of all the foster homes I’ve lived in, Ladine’s was the first and last where I learned to care about myself. If it was not for her, I would not be here.”

She remembers when Ladine helped her find her real family downstate, and what that meant to her. “It felt good to find the connections to my real family, and I’m grateful for her help with that.” Life at Ladine’s included holidays, long Sunday mornings and afternoons at church, picnics, roller skating and bowling.

Ladine cares for elderly people early in the morning, runs a licensed day care center in her home, and is raising an adopted son and three foster children. “If you’re old and need somebody, I’ve got you. If you’re young and you need somebody, I’ve got you,” she says, beaming with pride as she looks through a photo album, every page crowded with pictures of children who grew up in her house. A woman of strong Christian faith, she says she simply could not do her work with children without God’s help. “It takes love and faith,” she says. “There really is no secret to it.”

Immersed in Her Community

Darrin Holt, program director for LSSI’s foster care and adoption programs in Champaign, admires Ladine’s dedication to community work, her active role in the Church and her strong advocacy skills. “Ms. Shelby doesn’t give up on any child,” he says.

With all that she does, one would expect that Ladine would spend her free time relaxing, but she is immersed in her community as a whole, and in the foster care community in particular.

In her spare time, Ladine is a commissioner on the board of the Housing Authority of Champaign County, which provides housing and rental assistance through several programs, including public housing and Section 8. She assists in the development of policy that insures that low-income people are treated fairly in getting housing needs met, and finds her work with that organization very rewarding. “We work together to see that people get what they need, no matter who they are,” says Ladine.

Ladine serves as president of the local Foster Parent Advisory Council, meeting with them once a month to come up with ideas to improve caseworker/foster parent interaction. Conflicts are resolved, policy and procedure questions are addressed, and resources for foster parents are shared. Ladine chairs those meetings and acts as the primary advocate for foster parents in the Champaign County area. She helped create a networking list to provide support outside of the monthly meeting.

Jennifer Wells, LSSI licensing representative in Champaign and a liaison to the group, calls Ladine “a great asset to the community and our agency — she has a very large heart.”

Supporting Positive Change, another LSSI program, helps children who exhibit behavior problems at school and also works with their parents. Ladine assists the leader of that group and makes herself available as a resource to parents. Cortni McCabe, coordinator of the program, says, “Ms. Shelby is invaluable in her role with the program. She has taught the curriculum and gives examples and advice.”

Last spring (2005), Ladine went to Springfield to participate in a Child Care Association of Illinois lobbying day. The trip raised legislators’ awareness of the need for foster parent rate increases. On March 30, she traveled to Springfield for Lutheran Day 2006, a day of education, prayer and advocacy to encourage legislators to focus their efforts on creating just and compassionate public policy to enhance the common good in Illinois.

Ladine has volunteered with the Lutheran Network for Justice Advocacy (just renamed LutheranAdvocacy.org), a joint ministry of LSSI, the three regional synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Illinois, and the ELCA’s Division for Church in Society. LutheranAdvocacy.org is the ELCA’s state public policy office.

Fostering the Whole Family

How does this 64-year-old woman take on so much, with such grace and ease? “I take naps whenever I can. And I trust in God to show me the way.”

Ladine has advice for prospective foster parents. “Don’t go into this to make a living,” she says. “This is a 24-hour-a-day job, seven days a week — [it’s] not a hobby. You must be patient and love kids. If you’re not prepared to be patient, don’t do it.”

She stresses the importance of being able to work well with the biological parents, to be able to assuage their fears and anger, and to answer their questions. She is fostering the whole family, she says, not just the child.

“I make sure that I always follow through on promises. I advocate for the kids and their parents, and defend them. These kids can’t defend themselves.”

For information on LSSI’s foster care program, call 217/398-3011 or toll-free at 1-888-322-LSSI.