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. Sarah Sizemore is the supervisor of the foster care program at Beech Acres Parenting Center and says they work hard to provide a number of resources to foster parents. “We do a lot of training throughout the year. We have an on-call social worker who’s available 24/7. [Parents] can call any time day or night and get a hold of someone directly. We also have a foster parent support group that meets monthly.” 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 are 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. “People have always struggled with addiction, but over the last couple years, that number has risen and risen,” says Sizemore. “A child might come into foster care for homelessness, but at the root of that problem is addiction.” 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 kids have gone through. Clermont for Kids foster care supervisor Sara Faison gives the example of fostering an adolescent: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a teenager and end up in foster care, through no fault of your own, and then also lose all your friends, neighbors and everyone that you know.” Kids in foster care have had turbulent backgrounds; the safe, nurturing environment you provide may be the first one they’ve known.
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, Faison says foster parents all have one thing in common – they feel a sincere desire to help children and give them a safe place to live. It won’t happen overnight, but the impact you have on a child could last a lifetime. While he or she 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 a positive force changing the course of a child’s life in a better direction.
Foster Care by the Numbers
1,200: Number of children in Hamilton County’s foster care system
7: Median age of a foster child in Cincinnati area
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