In partnership with Centers for Youth & Families, Margaret and Curtis Blake have dedicated nearly 40 years to foster care – improving the emotional and social wellness of the state’s foster children.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Caleb Shane | Shot on location at Garvan Woodland Gardens
To open your home to a child in need, consequently opening yourself up to his or her past, struggles and successes, is a remarkable thing. To do so 100 times over for nearly four decades is astonishing.
When Curtis and Margaret Blake welcomed their first foster child in 1981, they didn’t realize it would lead to a 37-year journey. Of course, they wouldn’t change that for anything. “Margaret and Curtis are exceptionally thoughtful and caring individuals,” says Centers for Youth & Families Coordinator of Partnerships Jeff Gwatney. “They have demonstrated a level of commitment and selflessness to the children they have worked with that is unmatched.” He adds, “Many children continue to call, come back to visit and seek advice from them well into adulthood.”
Already parents to two biological children, Al and Marsha, the Blakes were able to provide a stable environment for these foster children. “In so many cases, the children placed in our home needed love, structure and encouragement to overcome whatever trauma they experienced,” Curtis explains. The Blakes were living in California and participated in the state’s foster care program for nearly 10 years before moving to Hot Springs in 1990. In California, they sought guidance and training from the Specialized Foster Care Program and knew they would need to find a similar program in Arkansas. Cue: Centers for Youth and Families.
Established in 1884, CFYF provides specialized prevention, intervention and treatment services that promote emotional and social wellness for the state’s children and families. The comprehensive continuum of care includes its Therapeutic Family Home Program. Jeff explains that the program combines “the best elements of traditional foster care and residential treatment centers.” Children in the program are nurtured in a family environment while also receiving active and structured treatment at CFYF.
“The heart of the Therapeutic Family Home Program at Centers for Youth & Families is the foster parents,” Jeff adds. “The parents who are part of the program are carefully recruited and trained. They serve as foster care professionals with the children and youth they accept into their homes.”
“The connection between Centers for Youth & Families and the foster parents provides a constant guide and support to the foster parents,” Margaret says. Echoing his wife, Curtis notes that he appreciates “the knowledge, experience and support you get from Centers for Youth & Families. They are there for you day and night.”
“The Blakes firmly believe, as does Centers for Youth & Families, that the trauma our foster children have faced has to be addressed and that no two children are exactly alike,” Jeff notes.
May is National Foster Care Month and National Mental Health Month, and both topics are of paramount importance to CFYF and the Blakes. “We are working to expand our Therapeutic Foster Home Program throughout the state,” says Centers for Youth & Families President and CEO Melissa Dawson. “With over 5,000 children in need of foster homes, it is imperative that we equip more parents to feel confident and supported to nurture children who may have endured trauma.” Highlighting its importance and need for greater awareness, Margaret adds, “foster care gives foster children another chance to become productive citizens of our state and country.”
Through their partnership with Centers for Youth & Families, the Blakes remain an invaluable resource to the state’s foster care system. And although they’ve retired after 37 years as foster parents, their legacy lives on in their own children and the 100 children whose lives were transformed.