Epworth Children's Home

Epworth Children’s Home
2900 Millwood Ave
Columbia SC 29205

Family Values

By the time Mandy and her siblings were taken into foster care, the 16-year-old lagged nearly two grades behind her peers.
She often found herself simply too exhausted to go to school. Instability at home had left Mandy with the day-to-day responsibility of looking after her six brothers and sisters. The teen also worked a weekend job. She had accumulated a record of misbehavior, red flags to potential foster parents. This made it more challenging for caseworkers to find her a long-term foster home.

“Even when teens behave perfectly, finding good foster homes for them is tough,” said Kendra Faile, Epworth’s senior director of foster care. “Of the many inquiries we receive from people wanting to be foster parents, only a handful express interest in fostering a teen. It’s tragic, because teens are still children and need the encouragement, guidance and stability of adult role models every bit as much as younger children.”

Thankfully, the S.C. Department of Social Services contacted Epworth to see if Hannah and Kyle Schroeder of Summerville would take Mandy at least temporarily. Hannah and Kyle have been licensed to foster through Epworth for several years. Hannah is a stay-at-home mom and Kyle serves in the Air Force. The young couple, in their twenties, were already caring for several young foster children and their two biological children when they got the call about Mandy.

Hannah hesitated.

“Our youngest child was just 3 months old at the time,” she said. “But we thought, well, it’s just a few days; we can manage.”

When Mandy first entered their home, she seemed genuinely happy to see the baby and the other children.

“She told us how much she loved kids, and we could see immediately that she was so good with them,” Hannah said. “We all had a really good time and Mandy told us a lot about herself.”

Strands of Mandy’s stories reminded Hannah of the frustration, confusion, and pain she, herself, had experienced as a teen.
“I’m from a good family, but a very strict one, and I went through rough patches where things were not great and there was no communication with my parents, like when I started dating Kyle,” Hannah said.

The emotional connection between Mandy and Hannah was so strong, she and Kyle soon asked Epworth to place Mandy in their care.

Hannah said that one of her own personal strengths is that she understands that not everything is as it seems at first. In reading over Mandy’s case history, she realized the teen’s troubled behavior, including Mandy’s occasional use of marijuana, could create problems in the family.

“But the more we got to know her, the more we saw clearly that she was just broken…she had never been allowed to be a kid,” Hannah said. “Drugs are one thing we can’t tolerate in our home, and we talked to her about that. Mandy told me how she had used drugs in part to cope with her responsibilities and home situation. I feel that with foster kids or any kids, a big thing to understand is the why.”

Hannah said that like many traumatized children in foster care, Mandy arrived with little belief or expectation that anyone valued her life.
“Kyle and I set out to do all we could to give her a sense of control and build her confidence,” Hannah said.

Hannah enrolled Mandy in counseling, and in consultation with the doctor, took the teen off heavy medication she was on.

“Getting her to go and sit in the classroom was the first big challenge,” Hannah said. “At first, every other day, Mandy would tell me she was sick. She was not motivated and had a tough time making friends. But we provided incentives, gave her reasons to go. Within months, she was at least going to school. We used the same approach to encourage her to improve her grades. With all Bs, for instance, she might earn the privilege of attending the high school football games. I talked to her and praised her a lot.”

Mandy’s grades rose and she began making friends. But she was still way behind her peers.

“I asked her if she wanted to graduate,” Hannah said. “If so, I told her, you have two choices: Remain in school an extra year or take extra online classes and course recovery classes at the same time you are attending regular classes and on holidays and in the summer. Mandy chose the second option. She caught up completely and is now on track to graduate this spring with her age group.”

As the months passed, Mandy grew very close to Hannah and Kyle and the children, and she settled into the rhythm of the lively, stable, and loving home. She began to trust that the Shroeder’s had her interest at heart. The couple’s trust in Mandy grew similarly.

It was put to the test just once.

“One night, Mandy said she was going to a girlfriend’s house, but she called me about an hour later and told me she had been smoking pot,” Hannah said. “She said, ‘I don’t know why I did it and I’m sorry. I know it means I’m getting kicked out.”

Hannah picked her up from her friend’s house, and Mandy stayed silent throughout the drive home. Once they arrived home, the teen went to her room and packed up all her things.

“She came downstairs and hugged me,” Hannah said. “She said ‘Thank you for picking me up. What time will my case manager get here?’ I told her no case manager was coming.”

Forty minutes later, an inconsolable Mandy put her belongings on the front porch and went outside to wait. Hannah finally had to ask the caseworker to call Mandy to tell her to go back inside the house.

“Mandy was crying and almost seemed to have a kind of breakdown,” Hannah said. She said, ‘I broke your rule, why do you want to keep me?’ We talked for over four hours. She hasn’t failed a drug test since. “

Mandy will graduate from high school in May and plans to either study cosmetology or nursing. While finishing up her final semester, she is also working weekends at a restaurant.

Hannah said Mandy is like their daughter now…they are that close.

“You can tell when you visit their home, Mandy is so family-oriented and it’s a very good, healthy environment, and she has developed a great bond with the Schroeders and her foster siblings,” said Epworth Clinical Coordinator Sarah Willard. “She has recognized that Kyle and Hannah have been there for her and are not abandoning her.”

Sarah said that Mandy’s 1-year-old foster sister can’t wait for Mandy to get home from school each day. When Mandy walks in the door, the toddler’s eyes light up in delight and she calls out her sister’s name.

The couple have reserved a cabin in Tennessee to celebrate Mandy’s graduation this summer. They taught Mandy to drive, and they’ve invited her to continue living with them while pursuing a vocation.

The couple are very grateful they took a chance on the teen. As a bonus, the journey, so healing for Mandy also healed Hannah.

“When I was growing up, I needed grace, I needed forgiveness,” Hannah said. “I think for Mandy, I’ve been the parent I needed at that time in my life.”

If a child was on your doorstep, needing care, would you take them in? Currently hundreds of S.C. children and teens need temporary foster homes. If you’d like to know more, please reach out to our supportive foster care staff.