ELKHART – More foster parents are needed – many more.
Last year, Indiana Villages received more than 5,000 requests for foster care and could only find 312 homes for youth in need.
“It’s not our responsibility to say yes or no if this child is being abused or neglected – that’s DCS’s job,” said Cheri Lintz, former clinical director of the South Bend-Mishawaka region of The Villages covering St. Joseph, Marshall, Elkhart, Kosciusko. and LaGrange counties. “It is our responsibility as adults to keep children safe. If you have any suspicions, contact DCS and let them make that call.
DCS can also provide case management and resources to help keep children home with their birth parents, but that’s not always an option.
The Elkhart-based villages supported 47 adoptive children in 29 foster families in 2021. This year, they are currently hosting 21 adoptive children in 14 foster families.
It’s not enough, Lintz said.
“We understand that not everyone is called to be a foster parent,” she said. “Personally, you may not be called to be an adoptive parent, but talking about it and raising this discussion may inspire someone else to be a part of it.”
The Villages will also intervene on their programs for companies and churches that request it. The villages span Indiana’s Elkhart, St. Joseph, Kosciusko, LaGrange, and Marshall counties.
“We get inquiries every day,” she said. “I get five or six emails a day. …DCS is constantly looking for foster parents. …There have been stories of children being forced to stay in the DCS office because there were no home to go to. It’s really sad. We’ve had adoptive parents who have been sitting in the ER waiting for the kids to be checked to go home with them, sat in the ER for hours waiting for the they are ready to be released.
The preferred option is always the family, but sometimes the family can only keep a child for a certain period of time. This saves time for groups like the Villages to find a foster family for the child, but this is not always the case.
Lintz said the goal is for children to stay in the area until school and activities if possible and to do this they need foster families locally.
“We could have a child placed in one of our homes and his family is three or four hours away,” she said. “It is even more difficult for the child. They may have to walk all that distance or half that distance or their parents will have to come here. It’s more of a pressure for everyone and if we had more foster parents in our area, we could keep more children here.
While other entities exist, the Villages only have about thirty host families in the region and the need has increased following the pandemic.
“The children were in the houses,” Linz said. “They weren’t in school or in the community for people to identify abuse or neglect and so the numbers were down. As the children returned, the calls and reports increased.
If foster parents were needed before, they are even more needed now.
“We try to get as much information as possible about the trauma and why the child was taken from the home, but sometimes we don’t get the whole story and so sometimes children are placed in the home and we identify that there has been sexual abuse or verbal abuse and the child is acting out because of what they’ve been through,” Linz said.
As a result, it takes a special type of person to be a foster parent.
“Foster parents need to be patient,” she said. “They have to be ready to be consistent. Often foster parents may want to not have those boundaries with a child that we normally would have with our children because they feel like they got out of a tough spot, so they want to be more forgiving, and it is good in some cases. aspects, but in other aspects, this child still needs rules, but you can’t be so strict with this child that you don’t let him bend a bit.
“This sometimes causes conflict. … It needs patience. It takes love. It takes determination to stay with the child and be willing to be open to people who help and make suggestions. It is not a one-way program. We have to try a lot of different things to see what works for each child.
Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but there are still ways to help.
Donations, including diapers, formula, sleepwear, and school supplies, are great options for people who want to get involved but can’t host for whatever reason.
“We have a bank that prepares bags so that when a child goes into foster care they get a bag with a teddy bear, a blanket and a coloring book, comfort items so that when placed , he has something,” Linz said. “If you are told at 3 a.m. that you are leaving your home, what are you going to catch?
“You don’t know when you’re going to be able to come back, and you’re scared and scared and it’s unfamiliar and you go with a stranger, and thinking about all of this in the mind of a child, we’re trying to provide them with some of these comforting things. … We had a little girl – I think it was her ninth birthday. She asked all her family to give her books for her birthday and she donated all the books to us. She came and had, I don’t know, 10 boxes of books that we were able to distribute to the children during difficult times.
Becoming an adoptive parent through the villages requires prospective parents to attend an information class, pass background checks, undergo training, undergo a home study, and obtain a foster care license.
“We want to make sure the foster family and the adoptive child are a good match,” Lintz explained. “We don’t want a child to go from leaving home to this foster family, to this foster family, to this foster family. We want to see them stable in foster care until DCS decides they’re ready to go home or ready for adoption.
The Villages also provide ongoing training and 24/7 support to foster parents through case managers.
“We never want our adoptive parents to feel like they’re alone with everything that’s going on,” she said.
Community support is also important for Villages. They offer group sessions where foster parents can meet other foster parents to discuss solutions and resources.
“We really want our foster parents to work with the kids on any skills they might need, involving them in community activities,” she said. “We also have adoptive parents who have worked alongside the birth families to help bring the child home, because at the end of the day that’s what’s best for a child, sometimes that’s hard. to be placed back in his biological family.”
For more information on the villages, visit www.villageskids.org. For more information on foster care, visit www.in.gov/dcs.