Last year, 28 children in Mecklenburg County were placed into foster care every 30 days.
That’s almost one child per day. But even though a high number of kids are in need of foster care, our county is seriously lacking when it comes to foster parents.
Why is it so hard to find foster families here in Charlotte? I talked to Katie Church, Foster Care Director at Thompson Child & Family Focus, to find out why.
“People of all ages want to give back to the community and the go-to methods are volunteering a few hours or financial contributions. They don’t think about foster care. But fostering is one of the most impactful ways to give back.”
A lot of people may think that they don’t have what it takes to foster a child. But, the truth is, you don’t have to be all that special to be a foster parent. You just have to have an extra bedroom and a lot of love to give.
Some of the most common misconceptions Katie has heard are that you need to be married, have kids and own a home to be a foster parent. This is not the case. In fact, they’re looking for younger adults to open their homes (and apartments) to foster children.
Katie explained, “Because our foster kids are so diverse, we have children of all ages, backgrounds, religious beliefs and sexual orientations. We need our foster parents to be as diverse as our kids to be able to meet their needs.”
Don’t get me wrong, fostering is definitely not the “quick and easy” volunteering choice.
To become a foster parent, you need to be at least 21-years-old, complete 30 hours of training and pass a bunch of background checks, screenings and home inspections.
The whole licensing process can take four to six months, but this is all to make sure that you can offer a safe and happy home to a child in need.
So what’s it really like to be a foster parent?
To learn, I talked to foster parents Becky and Tony Santoro (you may recognize them as the owners of Enderly Coffee, sold all over Charlotte).
They have been fostering a sweet little girl for over a year and have two children of their own.
After interviewing Becky and Tony, I have one main take-away: Fostering a child is unbelievably hard and unbelievably rewarding.
Not specific enough for you? Here are six things Becky and Tony think Charlotte should know about being foster parents:
(1) Reuniting the child with their family is always the end goal.
When a child is removed from their home, his or her biological parents are given a plan to achieve reunification. This can involve things like parenting classes, substance rehabilitation or finding secure housing. If the parents don’t work on their plan over a period of time, the court may decide that adoption is the best option.
(2) Speaking of court, be prepared to go. A lot.
Becky and Tony’s schedule is filled with court dates and social worker visits. Of course they know that these are all part of the fostering process, but they described these events as “highly intense.”
(3) Prepare to get attached.
“If you don’t want to be a foster parent because you think you will get too attached – I say that’s the point.” Becky told me. “We need foster parents that are willing to have their hearts broken for these kids. Sure, I’m going to hurt if my daughter leaves, but I know how to grieve that loss and keep moving forward. These children need us. The hurt is worth it.”
(4) Not all cases are extreme.
There are extreme cases where a child will have special needs and require around-the-clock care. But, for the most part, foster kids just needs a stable home environment and a family to love them.
(5) You can always say no.
Once you are approved for foster care you will receive phone calls about children who need to be placed. And this can happen fast — Becky and Tony received their call one hour after being approved. But, keep in mind, if you get a call and it doesn’t feel like a good situation for you or your family, you can say no. After all, it’s much better to say no right away than to take on a child who will later need to be moved to another home.
(6) It’s worth it.
I think Becky put it best by saying, “To see our foster daughter grow so much has been an experience that I can’t put into words. You’re a mom of this kid and it’s brutal and beautiful. We are foster parents because know how to love kids. It’s that simple.”