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Pine Vale Children's Home moves away from state foster care system, faces new challenges

Pine Vale Children's Home continues to provide a safe place for children, says Executive Director Randy Collum.

Staff photo by Brant Sappington

By Brant Sappington

Daily Corinthian

Amid the rolling hills of Wenasoga, a major transition is underway at Pine Vale Children's Home.

Last summer the longtime haven for struggling children and families made the difficult decision to move from operating as a foster home within the state foster care system to accepting children only through private, voluntary placements from struggling families.

"We decided that the state foster care system was not utilizing us in the best way and some of the aspects of it we were not comfortable any more," explained Pine Vale Executive Director Randy Collum.

The change has brought financial challenges but also a renewed opportunity to care for children and families facing difficult decisions in tough situations.

Pine Vale's story began in 1971 when the original home was opened near Iuka. Construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway took that original location and 52-acres of land was purchased at the current location in Wenasoga. The first house was constructed at the site in 1976, followed by a second in 1979 and a third in 2006.

Collum said Pine Vale's mission of providing a safe, loving and supportive environment hasn't changed despite changing circumstances.

As a state licensed foster care facility, children removed from families were placed at the home by the state's department of human services. In return Pine Vale received a monthly payment for each child including funds for clothing and their overall care. By 2017 around one-third of Pine Vale's budget came through those state funds. Contributions from area congregations of the Church of Christ make up another third and the remainder comes donations from individuals, often in memory or in honor of loved ones.

When the decision was made last year to separate from the state system and begin operating independently, it came with it the loss of that third of the institution's funding, forcing the closure of the third cottage and putting plans for construction of a fourth on indefinite hold.

"We now receive no government funds at this time for anything. One hundred percent of our funding comes from donations," said Collum.

Pine Vale now has room for up to six boys and six girls and with the move away from the state where those children come from has also changed.

"The clientele we now serve are children and families in need. We want to focus more on families that are just struggling," he said.

Many of those children come from situations where grandparents are raising their grandchildren and find themselves unable to care for them due to physical or financial reasons. They also see children whose parents are going into rehab for chemical dependency or physical problems and need a safe and nurturing place for their children while they try to turn their lives around.

Collum said it's not easy for a family to decide they're unable to care for their children and he and his staff work to be supportive and help these families see a way through their struggles and know their children will be cared for and loved.

Pine Vale operates in a cottage style with children living in homes staffed by husband and wife couples who live with them 24/7 and care for them as their own.

"We want them to see what it's like to have a stable, husband and wife family," he said.

Regardless of the situation a child is coming from, they go through the same basic program at Pine Vale focused on teaching them respect for themselves, others and the environment around them. They can then build on those basics with programs adapted to a child's particular needs and designed to teach them how to work with others, develop leadership skills and others vital life skills. Once they complete those programs they can remain at the home as a graduate and receive help in learning independent living skills to help them transition toward an independent life as they get older.

Collum said unfortunately they often get calls about children who have problems beyond their ability to provide care. They aren't able to deal with serious mental health needs or significant behavioral issues.

"A child needs to be able to function in a home and school setting," he said.

The director said they've been blessed with strong support through the years and now more than ever they're in need of that support. As they continue to adjust to being fully funded only by donations they are facing budget challenges and are counting on people throughout the Crossroads area to continue to help them in their mission of helping children in need.

He said they are lucky that all of their facilities are fully paid for, but they face a large budget for payroll to provide house parents and other staff to care for the children.

"Our biggest budget item is our payroll. Without our house parents and the individuals who work at Pine Vale, Pine Vale doesn't exist," he said.

To learn more about Pine Vale and how to help, call them at 662-286-6555, visit them online at www.pinevalechildrenshome.com or email pinevalech@pinevalech.com