Terese Thomas-Moore

Denton native Terese Thomas-Moore is the founder of The Umbrella of Family Services Inc., a nonprofit child placement agency. It’s one of just two such agencies in Denton County.

When Terese Thomas-Moore first began fostering in 2012, she knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. But she quickly realized that, apart from her role as a temporary guardian, she could do more to help address the overwhelming need for other foster families in Denton County.

Thomas-Moore began The Umbrella of Family Services Inc., a nonprofit social services agency, the same year. With Umbrella originally providing support for local families, Thomas-Moore knew she wanted to expand the organization into a child placement agency that would help connect fosters with children in need of homes.

Umbrella is now one of just two placement agencies in Denton County. The organization recruits and trains foster families and respite providers to help care for the more than 3,000 children in foster care in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. With 2,714 foster homes in the area and just 313 in Denton County, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, agencies like Umbrella are critical for ensuring children have safe havens when they are removed from their biological family’s care.

“Seventy percent of the children that are removed in Denton County are placed outside of the county because there aren’t enough families here to take the children,” Thomas-Moore said.

A Denton native who was her neighborhood’s babysitter as a teen, Thomas-Moore always envisioned herself working with children. She has a Master of Science in family studies from Texas Woman’s University and first entered the social services field in 2001, working at a group home for adults. Her experiences in the field inspired her to do more to support foster families.

“I started out working at foster care agencies, and my job was a foster home developer — I would go out and get those families licensed,” Thomas-Moore said. “Then I was a case manager also with foster children, and so from my own personal experience fostering as a mom, and then working at foster care agencies, those two together kind of led me to start mine here in Denton.”

Umbrella received licensing in February 2020 to operate as a placement agency but, with COVID-19 creating complications, had to withdraw and reapply, getting the green light early this year. Though the pandemic has continued to create some hurdles such as making outreach more difficult, Thomas-Moore said some local families have expressed interest in becoming fosters.

The process of becoming a licensed foster home can feel daunting. The first step is orientation, followed by a background check for everyone in the home aged 14 and up. Foster parents must complete 40 hours of training, be CPR certified and submit to interviews and home walk-throughs. Even after receiving their license and beginning to foster, parents must follow state guidelines and can expect regular home visits.

“I think fear is the No. 1 barrier [for potential fosters],” Thomas-Moore said. “The fear of the unknown and families being attached to these children, and if they’re not up for adoption, they can experience terrible heartbreak. There are also negative connotations around foster care or around CPS as the bad guys.”

One of the most significant tools to mitigating that fear is education and outreach, Thomas-Moore said. By hosting community events and being a resource for families, she said she hopes Umbrella will begin making headway. One event next month, the “EyesCream Event,” will provide free eye exams and glasses for children ahead of the new school year, along with snow cones from Kona Ice and a visit from the Denton Fire Department.

Community partnerships are an important part of building trust and can also provide inroads for supporting families in need. With some at-risk children having to leave all their belongings behind, the need for clothing, diapers and formula donations remains high. Chick-fil-A, Cameron L. Williams and Dr. Junior DeFreitas are among sponsors for the EyesCream event, but Umbrella is always searching for long-term partnerships to help support its mission, Thomas-Moore said.

With a focus on building community relationships and bringing more families into the foster care network, Thomas-Moore said she hopes Umbrella will, as its motto alludes to, be a port in the “life storms” of many at-risk children.

“There is a great need, and it’s just getting that information out and education out for families,” Thomas-Moore said.

The EyesCream event will take place Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rivera Elementary School, 701 Newton St. The agency will host another event, “Back 2 School Hair Affair,” at Heavenly Hands Salon, 815 Sunset St., on Aug. 13. To learn more about the events or about becoming a foster parent, visit Umbrella’s website at www.umbrellaoffamilyservices.org.

AMBER GAUDET can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @amb_balam.

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