Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Number of foster children rising, while number of foster parents remains the same

More open their homes, hearts
Kreimer, Peggy. Kentucky Post, Feb. 17, 2007, pg. A1.

The case of Marcus Fiesel, the 3-year-old autistic boy who died in a southern Ohio foster home last year, has increased awareness of the need for good foster homes in the region, and in Northern Kentucky has spurred an increase in families training to take in such children.

In Northern Kentucky, foster care inquiries jumped 26 percent in the weeks after Marcus' foster parents were arrested and charged in his death.

Several families who are completing training now said the tragedy prompted them to take action, said Debbie Kallmeyer, who oversees foster care recruitment for the state in eight Northern Kentucky counties.

There was a surge in inquiries in Hamilton County, too, said Brian Gregg, spokesman for the county's Jobs and Family Services department, but none of those families took the next step to become foster parents.

Marcus' case made headlines not only locally but nationally as a stunning story unfolded of murder and duplicity to try to cover up the crime.

His foster mother, Liz Carroll, went on trial this week on murder and other charges. She sparked a search that eventually mobilized hundreds of volunteers in and around Juilfs Park in Anderson Township, Ohio, in August in response to Carroll's claim that Marcus had gone missing after she fainted during an outing with him and her other children.

Police later said the boy actually had died more than a week earlier, after Carroll and her husband, David, left him bound in a blanket and packing tape and closed up in a closet in their Clermont County home while they attended a family reunion for two days in Northern Kentucky.

David Carroll is scheduled to go on trial next month on the same charges his wife faces, plus gross abuse of a corpse, for allegedly burning the boy's body.

The Carrolls had been approved as foster parents by Lifeway for Youth, an agency that contracted with the state of Ohio to provide foster care.

Lifeway has since lost its Ohio license and transferred its Ohio holdings to another foster care agency.

Private agencies that do background checks and provide ongoing inspections, monitoring and support for foster families augment state foster care programs in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

A total of 771 children from Hamilton County are in foster care, with 324 children in 285 foster homes that are part of the Ohio state system in Hamilton County and another 447 children in a network of private foster homes.

In the eight Northern Kentucky counties, 435 children are in private or state foster homes. About 400 more are in large residential programs and institutions.

"We have some children who would be able to move from those residential settings, but we don't have the (foster) homes for them," said Kallmeyer.

"The greatest need is for people willing to parent teenagers and sibling groups."

Hamilton County is attacking that need with a new parent recruitment commercial it's launching on local television stations and cable programs next month, putting faces and voices to the child's side of foster care.

The fast-paced spot uses young actors from the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati to voice the questions and worries of foster children.

"What's going to happen to me?"
"Who's going to be there for my graduation?"
"Are you listening?"
"Can you hear me?

The commercial focuses on the concerns of teens who have no safe home, no safe family, said John Cummings, acting manager of foster care and adoption recruitment for Hamilton County.

High school years can be difficult for anyone, but teens who have no family end up terribly alone, feeling no one cares what happens to them, and facing a future that is uncertain and frightening.

Most of those youths wouldn't be in foster care if they hadn't been abused or neglected by their natural families.

Their sense of isolation and desolation can be especially acute the closer they get to 18, when children generally "age out" of the foster system and end up truly alone in the world.

When most typical kids reach 18, their families are still there for them, Cummings said. They have someplace to come back to. They have someplace they belong. They have roots.

Joel Griffith, service region administrator for the Northern Kentucky Region of the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children, said teens who grow up in group residences have a hard time forging their own families because they haven't experienced a healthy family.

"Every adult needs one person in his life who will love him unconditionally, someone who he knows he can go to," he said.

He said children may get too old for foster care, but they never outgrow the need for a family.

"When these kids are 18 years old, where are they going to go at Christmas? Where are they going to go at Thanksgiving? Everybody needs a sense of family,"
Griffith said.

The commercial focuses on teens, but the need for foster homes covers all age groups.

Foster homes don't have to be two-parent homes, and foster parents do not have to be young or wealthy, said Gregg.

They must be at least 21, pass a physical and a background check, and complete training. Beyond that, their key requirements are emotional.

"We need someone who is going to be a loving family, who will care for that child and do what is necessary to assure that child is in a safe, healthy situation," Gregg said.

Foster parents can set their own limits on the type of children they will care for.

"Some people don't want infants or don't want teenagers," he said. "Others only want infants or older children."

Some foster homes only care for children for a few nights, usually sheltering them immediately after they have been removed from their homes and until they get more permanent placement.

Most children in foster care have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. Some leave with only the clothing they are wearing.

"These children have special needs. They may have behavioral problems, emotional problems," said Gregg.

And many have physical problems.

Most of the children in foster care are school age, and many are sibling groups.

"Wherever possible, we try to keep siblings together. But it's very hard to place three or four children in the same home," Gregg said.

Foster parents sometimes end up adopting children in their care, but that's not the goal. Foster care is a safe haven on the way to permanent placement, either with parents or relatives or an adoptive family.

While children are in foster care, social workers usually are working to stabilize the natural family.

"We are obligated to try to reunite them with their parents. If the parents are drug addicted, we try to get them off drugs. We work with them to find jobs and have a stable home. If that does not seem possible, we try to find a placement for the children; often that is a relative. If that is not possible, they'll spend time in foster care until they find an adoptive parent," Gregg said.

But some children never find that permanent home.

The number of foster parents remains fairly static but the number of children needing foster homes is growing, said Gregg.

"You can't leave a child in a dangerous situation just because you don't have enough foster parents," he said.

When a child is rescued from abuse or neglect, "we find a family," Gregg said.

The goal is to keep the child close to home, but Gregg has placed children in foster homes across Ohio, often in homes that already have one or two foster children.

"It's getting tougher and tougher to find homes," he said.

The surge in inquiries after Marcus' death was heartening, he said. "I'm not faulting people for not following through. They took the first step. They got information.

"It's a heck of a commitment," he said.

"Being a foster parent is a tough job. You have to be available at all hours. You have to let people into your home for inspections, to check on the child. You have to be available to take the child to medical appointments, to soccer, to any kind of therapy the child might need."

The responsibilities can be daunting, but so are the children's needs,
he said.

"We have some wonderful foster parents. They go through a lot and you really can't get upset about people who end up deciding they can't do that. It's a full-time job, taking care of someone else's child and making sure they have all the services they need.

"It's a blessing that we have so many who do it," he said. "But we sure need more."

Foster Parent information
* Northern Kentucky: (859) 292-6632 or
* Hamilton County: (513) 632-6366 or
* Finances: Foster families receive compensation for caring for foster children based on the child's needs, medical condition and behavior.
* Support Services: Foster parents and children can get ongoing support services including counseling, training, mentors, and often programs for child care and respite care.

* Must be be 21.
* Pass physical and background checks.
* Pass home inspection and allow regular inspection visits.
* Participate in on-going training.


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