When Cindy Sewell volunteered for CASA of Howard County to represent children in the foster care system, she traveled an hour-and-a-half to visit the children she represented because there were no local foster families they could be placed with.
While Sewell no longer volunteers for CASA, she now volunteers with Hands of Hope, a nonprofit that offers supportive resources to foster families and encourages adults to consider fostering. Having local families to place local children with, she said, is easier on the child, families, and caseworkers.
“We don’t have near enough foster families in Howard County,” Sewell said. “It’s just a lot easier on the kids if they can be placed in the county where they currently live, so they can maybe attend the same school, have the same teachers. And it’s easier to schedule visits with parents if they’re all in the same area. Being placed an hour or two away makes a hard process even harder, so it’s just a fact that we need more foster parents in this area.”
During Sewell's time working as part of the foster care system, she learned that “a lot” of foster families give up after their first placement because of how difficult it can be.
“We’re not saying it’s easy. It’s difficult, and part of the reason is because [foster parents] just don’t have enough support,” Sewell said. “So we’ve seen where having community support of foster families keeps them going and motivated and knowing that they’re loved and supported.”
She said many children who come into the foster care system have faced some kind of trauma, and foster families must learn how to care for a child with trauma. Fostering, too, she said often involves a number of appointments, from doctor’s appointments to meetings with their families to visits from caseworkers that families also must adjust to.
Hands of Hope, she said, establishes “care communities” at churches, and one was started late last year at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer. The care community can help assist with practical support, emotional support, and spiritual support.
In addition, a support group, The Howard County Foster and Adoptive Ministries, was started late last year as well for foster mothers. While the group currently was on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, groups will pick up the second Tuesdays of the month at Cross America when restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted.
Sewell said the new support group has been an asset to those who attend.
“It’s just nice having that support. Sometimes they feel like they’re alone in the effort of trying to be foster parents, and I don’t think a lot of people understand everything that’s involved,” she said.
Jennifer Julian, regional director of The Villages, a local foster placement organization, said the work foster families do is appreciated and necessary. At any given time, there are around 20,000 children in Indiana in the foster care system, and it has been as high as 35,000 in 2018.
“Foster families work to give children a place to heal and continue their childhood while the parents are working on the goal that they need to meet so the kids can come home,” she said.
In 2018, The Villages had around 75 kids in the foster care system in Howard County, and most of those kids were able to return to their parents when they left foster care. The average time they spent with their foster families was 10 months.
In some cases, if the child is unable to go back to their families, the foster family will end up adopting the child, Julian said. In 2017, 10 of The Villages' 74 foster children in Howard County were adopted by their foster family in Howard County. Oftentimes when that happens, the foster family will decide they’ve grown their family enough and no longer look to foster, Julian said.
With children, and foster families, continually entering and exiting the system, Julian said the need for foster families is ongoing.
“Not all of our families are looking to adopt, but many of them are. So what happens is maybe after a child has been in their care for a couple of years, if their permanency plan becomes adoption, our families begin to grow their own family and decide to be done fostering,” she said. “That creates an ongoing need. It’s kind of like we can never have enough families.”
The Villages continually offers information sessions for those looking to potentially become foster parents. The next session takes place via Zoom on May 7 at 4 p.m., followed by another session on May 11 at 5 p.m. Those who are interested can call The Villages at 765-455-8545 or go to villageskids.org and fill out an inquiry form.
Those who are interested must complete a paperwork process, which includes background information, a medical exam, and background checks. Next, the individual or couple must meet with a case manager for at least three home visits to determine which child/children would be the best match. Once complete, a Structured Analysis Family Evaluation is conducted. Those who complete the steps then must be licensed as foster parents by attending training and completing the licensing requirements.
The Villages offers 24-hour support, case management for the children and foster families, support groups, and ongoing training.