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 organizations are there to educate and support you. Dana Adkins is a program director at Necco of Dayton, an organization that provides foster care, adoption and counseling services. He says, “As long as an individual or parental couple have an income, meet some basic background check requirements, and have a heart that’s willing to take children into their home, that’s all we need. We can teach them anything else they need to know. We provide not only traditional foster care case management service, we also provide 24/7 crisis support, so our foster families are able to get a hold of a live person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The takeaway? If you decide to foster, you won’t be alone. There might be a bit of a learning curve, but education and training is available throughout the process.
The need is great.
The number of children in foster care has been rising at alarming rates, especially with the opioid epidemic facing so many families. Ashley Metzler, foster care manager for St. Joseph Orphanage in Dayton and Cincinnati, says, “We have more and more kids coming into care with parents who have significant drug issues. Some have seen their parents or a relative overdose.” Adkins adds, “We’re seeing an increase in children with mental health diagnoses in foster care who are going to present more challenges than a traditional child. There is a need for parents who can care for those children.”
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 gone through. And taking on the responsibility of a foster child can certainly shake up life as you knew it. Metzler says they work hard to find the right fit between potential foster parents and a foster child. “We want [parents] to be successful and we want the children to be successful, so we tend to be very specific in our matching for new homes.” 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.
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, Adkins says they all have one thing in common. “The overwhelming reason that individuals sign up to foster is a sense of wanting to help, and to help fill a need that the community has. Even if it’s for a short period of time, they have the opportunity to impact a child’s life by giving them a safe, loving and supportive home.” While a foster child may not express what it means to them in the moment to be cared for by you, it can be gratifying to know that you are changing the course of a child’s life in a better direction. As Metzler says, “The biggest thing we stress is the impact that having even one positive attachment can make. When children experience trauma, their brain is stuck in that state. But having that positive attachment helps them get past that point and they’re able to be more resilient.”
Foster Care by the Numbers
700 Number of children in Montgomery County’s foster care system
12 Number of classes required to become licensed and certified
21 Minimum age to become a foster parent in Ohio
30+ Required hours of training to receive licensing
23% Increase in Ohio kids in foster care between 2016 and 2017