Tukee Talk Allison Hurtado

I recently saw a post on Facebook from a friend who just became certified to foster. It was a letter from her licensing agency thanking her for her decision to foster and explaining the great need that there is now for adults to open their homes to kids in need.

“Arizona is facing an unprecedented child welfare crisis,” the letter said. “The number of children in Arizona’s foster care system is staggering — more than 14,000. In just one year, the number of children in Arizona’s foster care system has increased by an overwhelming 22 percent, or almost 2,500 children. In this same time period, the number of licensed foster homes has actually decreased, resulting in more children forced to live in congregate care without the help of a stable, loving adult in their lives.”

It brought me back to a conversation I had with Sheila Coonen, president and CEO of Connecting to Serve. Connecting to Serve is having its monthly meeting in Ahwatukee on Nov. 13 at Mountain Park Senior Living, and this month’s topic for discussion is foster care.

Experts from the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), Catholic Charities, and Passages Transition Coalition will all be on hand to discuss foster care and answer questions about the need for more homes.

If you’ve never looked into fostering or heard anything about it, it’s really a life-changing decision. There are some good reasons to be hesitant. Maybe there’s no room in the house — but those children don’t have a safe place to stay at all.

Maybe you can’t afford another child — though the state reimburses families who open their homes. Maybe the emotional toll is just too great — but even that’s not much of an excuse when you consider the emotions those kids are dealing with.

“Fostering is no different than having your own children and we can certainly encourage people to look at the positive impact that they can have in the lives of the children,” said Jasmin Hernandez of Catholic Charities. “Raising children, in general, is an emotional ordeal with good and bad times. Every child in our program has a case manager who will provide support and assistance and the parent can always count on the licensing worker for support.”

Hernandez said there is always a need for new foster parents. More stable foster parents from varied backgrounds gives each child an increased chance of finding a permanent home.

According to the DES website, www.azdes.gov, the number of reports received has risen substantially in the past two years and so has the number of children in out-of-home care. As of March 31, there were 12,435 children placed in out-of-home care. More than half of teenagers 16 to 18 are not residing with a family.

The greatest need is for homes for African-American teenage boys, sibling groups and teen moms with their babies. While DES had 663 new foster homes from October 2011 to March of 2012, it also had 679 closed.

The organization’s biggest challenges are recruiting foster and adoptive homes for teens, recruiting and hiring qualified staff, the impact of reductions in behavior health services for children and adults, and the increase in the number of Child Abuse Hotline reports received.

DES has many ways to get involved. Besides being a foster parent or adopting you can mentor, volunteer or even just provide respite care for kids who already have a foster family.

For those who want to know more about the need and ways to get involved, Connecting to Serve’s monthly meeting will be at Mountain Park Senior Living, 4475 E. Knox Road, at 3 p.m. on Nov. 13.

For more information on the group or the meeting, email info@connectingtoserve.org or call (602) 541-7440. To learn more about fostering or ways to get involved, visit www.azdes.gov.

There’s clearly a need. Are you ready to change a life?

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

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