I read a couple articles in the Eagle about National Adoption Day celebrated at Exploration Place yesterday. The coverage was decent, but it was weak in one sense. The coverage should have ended with telling the Eagle’s readers what they can do to help foster kids. Here’s why.
Last year we averaged around 1200 kids in out of home placements each month in the Wichita Region—not new fosters, the overall average. This year that number is around 1400. I have one of the busier dockets in Sedgwick County, and Sedgwick County has the largest number of new filings in the state, so I have a good perspective in this issue.
The problem is that we do not have enough local foster families to take care of these kids. Indeed, sometimes we don’t have any immediate placements so they must stay in contractors’ offices for multiple nights, sleeping on cots. Granted, sometimes these kids have behavior issues and might even pose a danger to the families that take them in, but this is rare. Mostly it’s simply a matter of not enough homes in Wichita. This is really a problem with families of 3 or more kids, with one or more having health issues that need attention. When this happens, siblings are split up and some are placed an hour or more away from here, with two or more hours not being rare. This makes it difficult for parents to keep up regular visitation schedules, and traumatizes kids who have to spend several hours in caseworkers’ cars traveling to and from visits. It’s even worse when they travel for two or more hours then have parents cancel visits. You can imagine what the kids go through when this happens.
“Mom must not love me or she’d be here.”
The reality is that sometimes employers threaten the parents with termination if they leave work for visits, so sometimes they have to decide whether losing their jobs, which the court ordered them to retain, or missing a visit, also court ordered, is priority. This isn’t as big an issue if the kids are placed locally—they can reschedule visits or sometimes have more than one visit a week. So if you are called to foster, to give time 24-7 to these kids, don’t wait. We have several providers in Sedgwick County such as EmberHope, DCCCA, Salvation Army, and Saint Francis Ministries.
The article also left out other, less time consuming options for concerned citizens. You can volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate or Youthrive mentor. As a CASA volunteer or Youthrive mentor, you walk beside the kids and make sure all those involved are looking out for the children’s best interests, and are complying with court orders to ensure permanancy for these kids sooner rather than later. As for CASA, one impact that stands out is on these troubled kids’ high school graduation rates. Without a CASA, it’s just 50%; with a CASA, its over 80%!
Finalizing through adoption is fantastic. But that’s just 30% of the case outcomes for foster care. It’s the 70% that needs the most attention, the kids who face much of the bad consequences of spending all or part of their lives in foster care. It’s not a coincidence that 80% of the men and women incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails were fosters. You can impact these kids by stepping forward and giving them a stable home to live in while they are in foster care (in Kansas, the average number of placements for foster kids in 24 months is just over 5!), mentor them as a CASA or Youthrive advocate, and perhaps be willing to adopt if the opportunity arises.
I’d love to talk to your civic organization or church about volunteer opportunities in the foster care system. You and your friends can make a huge impact in these kids’ lives. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like be to present at your group, or send my contact info to your pastor or group leader.