Friday, April 27, 2007

Foster care has become a 'sea of statistics'

Kentucky's kids need a happy ending Crawford, Byron. Louisville Courier-Journal, April 22, 2007, pg. B1.

On a Sunday when events of the past week have heightened concern for America's children, the plight of nearly 400 youngsters across Kentucky looking for homes and families to love them should take on added urgency.Most of the children have been removed from homes where they were mistreated or abandoned. Many of their stories never make the news or touch the public conscience — but each is a tragedy in desperate need of a happy ending.

Nationwide, their numbers are so great that their individual cases have become a sea of statistics: more than 500,000 children in foster homes, and more than 100,000 hoping to be adopted.

There are 6,900 children, from babies to 18-year-olds, in foster homes across Kentucky — 1,100 in Jefferson County alone — waiting for the state to decide their fates. Of about 375 children up for adoption in the state, 113 are in Louisville.

"We are in crisis right now," said Betty Bastin, recruitment coordinator for Foster Care and Adoption Services in Jefferson County.

"The kinds of situations we're seeing with children seem like they worsen every couple of years. And also we're in crisis with foster homes, because we don't have enough," she said.

Many of the children placed in foster care eventually return home, but regular mentoring and monitoring are needed.

"People don't always want to be parents," said Bastin, who was adopted as an infant. "They want the glory of being a parent, but they're not doing the right things. Families are hurting out there."

Younger children are usually adopted sooner, while many children between the ages of 12 and 18 are passed over. Those who never find someone to care may eventually wind up in the jail system.

Jose Dunn, who is on the placement team of Bastin's agency, was one of several children removed from a single-parent household. He might easily have become such a statistic had he not found hope for his life through the example of several role models.

"Eventually every child was taken away from my mother and was either adopted or fostered out, or were on the street, or they died," said Dunn, a retired Air Force captain.

"I had a house father and his wife when I was in an orphanage ... who dedicated their lives to living with us, and loved us by leading us and limiting us. If it wasn't for good people who stepped up to the plate, I don't think I'd be here today."

He notes that volunteers who are unable to serve as foster or adoptive parents may help keep distressed families together by serving as mentors or respite care providers.

"You can adopt a family," said Dunn. "Sometimes, even if we can't help the parent, we can help the child feel more comfortable and feel like they're going to make it.

"I loved my mother. She made a lot of mistakes, but if somebody would have been there to help guide her ... I think she would have made it," he added. "Money would not have made the difference. What would have made the difference is actual hands-on people."

To learn more about how you can help, phone (502) 595-KIDS in Louisville or call the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services adoption branch at (800) 928-4303.


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