Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Foster care needs you!

Arkansas’ foster-care system needs our help, and that has never been more painfully obvious as when Michelle Hood spoke to the Jacksonville and North Little Rock Sertoma Clubs during a combined meeting last week at Southern Oaks Country Club.

Hood is a community-engagement specialist for Arkansas’ Creating Connections for Children (ARCCC) project. She’s with the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services.

There are 122 Jacksonville kids in the state’s care, but only 24 open and approved homes with families to take them in, Hood revealed.

That means about 81 percent are living in emergency shelters, group homes or with foster families far from their own communities — far from everything they know.

The shortage in North Little Rock is only slightly better at 80 percent not going into foster homes there. There are 198 North Little Rock kids, but 40 families willing to care for them.

According to The Call, a Christian organization mentioned by one attendee, the state cares for about 7,000 kids a year and there are just 1,100 homes.

Hood said there are about 4,500 children in foster care across the state now, and The Call’s website states that there are 3,500 at any given time.

Best case, 31 percent don’t end up in the shelters or group homes. Worst case is just 15 percent.

These numbers are not only pathetic, they’re terrifying, especially for these innocents who have already experienced far too much suffering in their short lives.

But not everyone can foster a child. The training, which Hood said the state is hoping to cut in half, and requirements of caring for the neglected or abused kids are extensive. One meeting attendee mentioned that The Call is a faster program, and the specialist agreed.

It’s not just the time commitment that is discouraging. Fostering takes a special kind of heart, too.

Embracing these broken little ones with the open and compassionate understanding they need but not getting attached is difficult. Foster families must accept that they could be sent back to their parents, adopted or transferred elsewhere.

But Hood shed some light on other ways to help them.

For one, kids don’t have much when they are removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse. Donate toiletries, food, etc.

Give them the normal comforts of childhood, such as birthday parties.

Be the caring soul sitting with them during a hospital stay, or serve as a mentor. Having someone who listens can be a powerful healing thing.

Help in a more indirect way by providing transportation or handling paperwork for the overworked state employees, Hood said. Caseworkers in Arkansas watch over 50-plus kids each.

Please, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, follow through with a goal Hood referenced in her speech — bring that load down to around 30 kids, even though the national average is twice that. At least it’s a step in the right direction.

Hood ended her talk by saying the Bible instructs us to care for orphans. While many foster kids are not orphans in the sense that their parents have passed away, she explained how many have told her they feel just as alone and lost.

If you can’t provide a home for these children, do something else that lets them know that they are loved. And remember that it takes a village.