“We are at a critical point” | Urgent need for foster homes as influx of children enter system

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TRI-CITIES (WJHL) Right now in Tennessee and Virginia there are thousands of children waiting to be placed into foster homes.

May marks National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize the importance of foster families. Without enough parents willing to open their homes, children right here in the Tri-Cities are out of options.

“I would say we are at a critical point here. We do not have enough foster homes. Desperate things are having to happen because we don’t have enough foster families,” said Ronda Paulson, founder of the Isaiah 117 House nonprofit.

Right now, the number of children entering the foster care system far outweighs the number of parents available to take them in.

“We’ve always had this problem. We just have more children. So now the problem is magnified,” said Paulson.

Paulson founded the first Isaiah 117 house in Carter County, today their many homes give children up for foster placement somewhere comfortable to wait. But in recent months, the need has been overwhelming.

“There is no where to go. There is no bed in a facility, no foster family stepping up, no kinship placement, they have no where to go,” said Paulson.

Nationwide the pandemic has resulted in more children being removed from their homes and needing foster parents than ever before. Paulson said this can be credited in part to pandemic shutdowns during 2020, and at-risk children being home more with less oversight from non-guardian adults.

“Our hearts are breaking. We are seeing just an influx of some of the worst abuse we have seen. Really sad, hard stuff,” said Paulson.

“We are seeing how unemployment, mental health challenges or substance abuse issues with the pandemic has impacted families and children,” said Amera Ghanem, family systems coordinator with United Methodist Family Services.

In Virginia, UMFS helps train foster parents and offers them steady support during the entire process. Ghanem says they are seeing at least a 30% drop in the number of families interested in fostering, from a number that was already too low.

“The children are our futures. Our futures need homes and guidance and love and support. That’s how we can all make a difference,” said Ghanem.

Paulson sees this as a call to action for people to step up, hoping it will not fall on deaf ears, especially among the faith community.

“Will it be easy? No. But will it be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done and will you feel God’s presence like never before? Absolutely,” said Paulson. “I get frustrated that there are this many churches, and this many church members and we have a foster care crisis.”

For those on the fence and considering fostering, both Ghanem and Paulson say now is the time.

“People don’t know and it’s happening on their street. It’s not in another county, it’s not in another country. It’s happening right here,” said Paulson.

Resources

For Virginia resources on fostering, visit UMFS’s website or the Department of Children’s Services to apply to foster or sign up for training. In Tennessee, visit the DCS website at this link.

Frontier Health also has a resource called TRACES to encourage and support foster and adoptive families.

Donate to or volunteer with the Isaiah 117 house by visiting their website.

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