The child welfare system works hard to protect our society’s most vulnerable members, but they can’t do it without the heroic efforts of loving, committed foster parents. However, for many, the idea of fostering a child is a daunting proposition, and it becomes something to get around to “someday.” But what if someday is here… today? If you’ve ever considered opening your home and heart to a child in need, read on for a few reasons to get the ball rolling.
You will have support.
No matter how experienced you are (or aren’t) when it comes to children, foster care agencies are there to educate and support you. Sharon Pierce, President and CEO of The Villages, a statewide foster care and adoption agency serving thousands of Hoosier children, says that being a foster parent is truly a team effort. “We want [parents] to know that they have the full organization behind them. They also have a designated social worker working with them on a daily or weekly basis to problem solve, to help the child become as successful as possible in a family setting, and to support the foster family with whatever additional training needs or concrete resources they might need.”
The need is great.
“Right now in Indiana, there are more than twice the number of children in Indiana’s child welfare system than just five years ago,” says Pierce. That staggering rise of children into foster care means agencies are always looking for people to foster – often willing for their lives to change at a moment’s notice. While the needs, preferences and limitations of prospective parents are always considered before placement, those who are flexible and able to adapt quickly can be a great help. Abuse victims, sibling groups and teens can be more difficult to place, but if you’re open to these circumstances, caring for these high-risk children can be infinitely rewarding.
The work is hard – but essential.
What is something you’ll likely never hear from a foster parent? “That was easy!” Foster care is tough. It can be heartbreaking to hear what children have been through. Pierce says the opioid epidemic ravaging the Midwest has led to greater challenges for the child welfare system, and in turn for foster parents. While reunification with the biological family has always been the goal, Pierce says that in Marion County, perhaps 1 in 3 children will be reunited with their parents, primarily due to ongoing addiction. “When someone is under the spell of an addiction, it’s difficult for that parent to be bathing their child, feeding their child, or taking them to the doctor,” says Pierce. “We make sure those basic childhood needs are being met. And then, most importantly, we provide the nurturing that’s so critical for these children.”
You have the chance to make a real difference.
Foster parents come in endless varieties. Some are single, some are empty nesters, some have biological children, and some have never had kids of their own. Many have been touched by the foster care system themselves. However, Pierce says foster parents all have one characteristic in common. “Most of them feel a sense of calling or responsibility to stand in the gap for children whose families are unable to care for them.” It won’t happen overnight, but the impact you have on a child could last a lifetime. Pierce likens the process to planting a seed and tending lovingly to its needs. “Sometimes we don’t get to see the benefit – that seed sprouting and growing into a beautiful flower or plant or tree. That is often the case with foster families. But it’s so exciting when that experience comes full circle and a child says to them, ‘You made me feel safe at a time when I wasn’t sure I would ever feel safe again.’”
Foster Care by the Numbers
29,000 Number of children in Indiana’s child welfare system
57% Percentage of children ages 0-5 entering the foster care system in Indiana
21 Minimum age to become a foster parent in Indiana
363 Average number of days a child spends in foster care
15 Required hours of training per year to maintain a foster care license
Sources: Sharon Pierce (statistics 1,2), Indiana Dept. of Child Services www.in.gov/dcs (statistics 3,4,5)