The opioid epidemic is creating an urgent need for additional foster parents in Northeast Tennessee.
According to Youth Villages, an organization that coordinates foster care in Johnson City, there are nearly 8 thousand children in foster care across the state and less than 4 thousand foster families willing to provide homes for those children.
“We have twice as many kids that need care as foster parents that are willing to care of them,” said Aisha Ward, a foster parent recruiter and training supervisor for Youth Villages.
Since 2010, there’s been a 51 percent increase in people that have had their parental rights terminated. During that same time period, there’s been a 56 percent increase in the number of children waiting to be adopted, according to the organization.
“I would say there’s a greater need for foster care here than some other areas of Tennessee. I think the opioid addiction crisis has greatly impacted our region, and we’re seeing more and more children go directly into foster care,” said Youth Villages Clinical Consultant Amy Hayes.
Organizational data shows there are about 800 kids across seven Northeast Tennessee counties that are either in the foster care system or in full guardianship, meaning they’re ready to be adopted.
That’s about 10 percent of the overall state population.
“Children are experiencing higher levels of trauma, of abuse and neglect at the hands of the families that are supposed to care the most for them, so we are seeing, clinically, children that are coming into foster care that do have higher needs,” said Hayes. “It can cause a lot of long term issues for them if they’re not placed into a loving, stable, structured environment.”
That’s why Youth Villages wants more people to consider becoming foster parents.
Ward said it’s easier than you think.
She said it generally takes between two and three months. Potential parents undergo a background check, six weeks of training and a home visit.
“I think one of the biggest things that stop people from fostering is because they often feel like they don’t have what it takes,” said Ward. “We have to remind people of their strengths. We all have our own limitations and our own weaknesses, but we have to remind them of what they have to offer.”
Ward said there are many ways local people can get involved. She said they can donate, advocate or volunteer their time.
Ward said if you’re interested in becoming a foster parent they’re hosting an informational session on June 18 at 6 PM.
Youth Villages will also have a table at the Blue Plum festival in downtown Johnson City on June 8.
You can also contact Jessi Bernardini at Jessica.Bernardini@youthvillages.org or (423)283-6518.