While the need for open homes is great, open hearts can be just as helpful to Arizona’s foster care system.

Speakers from Arizona Departments of Economic Security (DES), Passage Transition Coalition, and Catholic Charities shared information on the need for more support during Connecting to Serve’s monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Deidre Calcoate, adoption and resource home development and support manager for DES, said since March of 2012 nearly 2,000 kids have entered the foster care system, bringing the total to somewhere near 14,500. In that time the number of homes stopping fostering has exceeded the number of homes being opened up.

“When families close their homes we always ask why,” Calcoate said. “The majority will tell you they’re leaving because they’ve adopted and need a little time. Some of those will come back and foster again later, but there are other issues. One issue is the support a family receives when they receive a child into their home. Our agencies that contract with us do a very good job of supporting families, but families need more than that. They need the community that is a part of their lives to help them do the work that they do with children.”

Calcoate said mentors can do things as simple as reading to kids, helping with sewing, or making a meal. There are also opportunities for volunteers to serve as a court appointed advocate for a child or sit on a review board for a case.

Julie Ball, Passage coordinator for Passage Transition Coalition, said their biggest need is for mentors. Passage focuses on providing kids aging out of the foster care system with resources they need to find housing, get into school and find a job. In a typical family setting the child might call their parent if they’re having trouble finding an answer, but for many kids aging out of the foster care system they don’t have that luxury.

Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK) has a mentoring program that matches adults with teens in the system. They ask for a one-year commitment from their mentors but hope that the relationships will last much longer.

Mentors are asked to meet with the youth twice a month. JoAnne Chiariello, director of Family Support Services for AASK, said many mentors spend weekend days with their youth.

The youths are ages 12 to 21 and older kids will receive priority for being assigned a mentor.

AASK mentors must have a level one finger print clearance card, annual criminal record statement, current Arizona driver’s license and proof of insurance. AASK will help mentors with all the necessary paperwork.

For more information on ways to mentor, AASK host orientations across the Valley at various times. Visit their website at www.aask-az.org or call (602) 254-2275.

More information on the current state of the foster care system can be found at www.azdes.gov.

Connecting to Serve is hoping to start another Advocacy Team of local residents to find creative ways to help children in foster care. For more information or to get involved, contact Sheila Coonen at (602) 541-7440 or at info@connectingtoserve.org.


Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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