Shortage of foster homes in Izard and Fulton Counties

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Izard and Fulton Counties both have a shortage of foster homes, with a surplus of foster children, who desperately need a place to stay.

There is no doubt that there is a stigma related to the phrase “foster home.” But there are many programs who work with these families to ensure that a child doesn’t have to be sent to another town, while their Department of Human Services (DHS) case workers try to come up with a solution. It is hard enough when a child has to be torn away from their home, and from what they have always known, however; it’s harder when they are on the other side of the state, with nothing familiar.

The CALL is a program developed within Arkansas that works on a volunteer basis, to recruit foster families and volunteers through churches. The CALL works with these local churches to help meet the needs of local children in foster care. While recruiting families is a priority, it is also understood that “not every Christian is called to foster or adopt.” The CALL works with local churches to assemble a support team of volunteers to wrap around their foster and adoptive families.

Currently, there are seven foster homes in Izard, as well as, Fulton County. Within these counties, there is a varying range of approximately 30 to 50 children in the foster system at any given time. Seven foster homes aren’t enough to adequately house these children. The overall goal of varying foster assistance programs is to create enough foster homes that there are only one to three children in each house. This is done so there will be more time to give each child the individual help they need during a stressful time.

According to a study that was released by Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs, former foster children are almost twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as U.S. War Veterans. With a statistic like that, it’s easy to understand how important individual care could be, especially if there was the ability to have fewer children in each foster home.

Lacey McKay, who coordinates with foster families at the Izard County DHS office, notes that there are a lot of local programs that work to ensure foster children can be as comfortable as they can. McKay just recently started working at the Izard County office, but also has worked at the Fulton County office. McKay noted that the Salem Assembly of God, has a backpack program called “You are Loved,” which assembles pajamas, snacks, toiletries and a few essentials that will help the child with their first nights in a new foster home. The Salem First Baptist Church, provides bags for children to carry their personal belongings in. “It’s alarming how often a child will use a trash bag as a makeshift suitcase,” said McKay. These programs may seem small, but it helps a child to transition a little easier.

Becky’s Kids, in Melbourne, was a program started by Jessica Eldred Betts and Ann Moser. The idea is named after Becky Hickerson, Jessica’s sister and Ann’s daughter, who passed away, but worked as a DHS case worker in Izard County. When Becky passed away, there were multiple people who donated money in Becky’s name and Jessica decided that would be what Becky would want them to do with the money. The money is used in various ways, but primarily, the mother and daughter duo use the money to help foster children feel a little bit more at home. They use the money for something as simple as helping a girl get a prom dress, or spending a day at Silver Dollar City in Branson. Ann also added that the money is used, “for things that we take for granted as parents, and that these children just don’t have.” Becky’s Kids will be helping foster children with their back to school shopping, so donations are appreciated. Any monetary donation can be mailed to: Ann Moser, P.O. Box 770, Melbourne, AR 72556

There are other programs that help foster children, but primarily, there is a large need for more foster homes at a local level. Sue and Kenneth Sanders, of Izard County, have been foster parents for 34 years and have fostered over 400 children during that duration. The couple also has two of their own children, but they felt “The CALL,” to help children who didn’t have any place to stay. Currently, they have three foster children; a six month old baby, a two year old and a 17 year old. Sanders noted that there is a lot of laughs and tears and that it’s hard to let these kids go, and even harder to turn away a child because they already have too many.

To find more information on becoming a foster family or figuring out how to volunteer for this cause, contact your respective county DHS office: Fulton County’s agent is Ashley Johnson and Fulton County branch’s phone number is 870-895-3309; and Izard County’s Agent, McKay, can be reached at the Izard County branch at 870-368-4318. The CALL has a representative for the Tri-County area, Gary Phillips, who can be reached at 870-895-5165.

More information on The CALL can be found at thecallinarkansas.org. Volunteers urge those who are interested in becoming a foster, adoptive or respite home, or volunteer caring for the foster children, to attend one of their monthly meetings. The dates, times and location can be found on the website. With a little help from everyone, this foster care crisis can be resolved so that every child has a safe place to go within their own respective county and receive the individual care that they need at such a trying time of their life.

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