May is Foster Care Awareness Month…

Governor Doug Ducey has again issued a proclamation declaring the month of May to be Foster Care Awareness Month.  The Governor urges “all citizens to do something positive to improve the lives of children in foster care.”

According to childrensrights.org, on any given day, there are nearly 437,000 children in foster care in the United States.  The latest semi-annual report issued by the Arizona Department of Child Safety (“DCS”) stated that there were 14,142 children in Arizona’s foster care system on December 31, 2019.

That’s a lot of kids!  These boys and girls have been victims of abuse and neglect.  Their lives have been disrupted due to no fault of their own.  They deserve love, hope and joy in their young lives, just like every child.

Who are these children in care?  The DCS report indicated that 40% were under 5 years of age and 17% were 16 and over.  34% were Caucasian and an almost equal number were Hispanic.  It’s the case plan goal of 7,771 children to be reunified with their family, and 29% of the children had a plan for adoption.

3,078 children had spent more than 24 months in foster care as of December 31st.  This statistic is quite disheartening.  I think of the children who are in a state of limbo – what will the future hold for them?  Even more frightening is the reflection in the report that licensed foster homes declined again in the six- month reporting period.  There was a 5% decline in number of homes, together with a 15% drop in the number of bed spaces for children in need.  We need more foster families, especially in light of the pressures caused by the current pandemic.  At Arizona Helping Hands, we fear more children will be placed in care, and are bracing for a flood of requests for assistance.

The heroes in foster care are the foster parents.  Those who open their hearts and home to boys and girls who crave a permanent home are inspirational.  I have met so many whose love seems boundless.  “I feel called to help these children,” and “I get back so much more than I give” are common sentiments.

There has also been a dramatic shift in the type of foster placement.  Licensed family foster homes have declined, while relative placements have increased.  More grandparents, aunts, uncles and others are being called on to be the safe haven to youngsters.  From July through December, 2019 there were an additional 720 children placed into the care of relatives.

I clearly understand the enormous challenges faced by those kinship providers.  Grandma can never be adequately ready to transform her life to be there for her grandchildren. I’ve met many relatives who got the call for help when they weren’t even aware that a cousin/niece/grandchild had been born.  Now they are being asked to care for a child brought into the world with drug addiction and an entire array of challenges.

A hero is defined as someone who puts others before himself or herself.  I can think of no one more fitting of this title than a foster parent.  During Foster Care Month, reach out, say thanks, express gratitude to those who put the needs of boys and girls in foster care above their own.

As the Proclamation suggests, everyone can do something positive to help these children.  Organizations like Arizona Helping Hands exist solely to ease the path, and to provide support to foster families.  Especially in these days of COVID-19, these children need our help.  On May 1st we delivered 42 twin beds around Arizona to give children a safe place to sleep.  Also on those trucks were 23 cribs for the mostly substance exposed newborns, school supplies, educational toys, diapers and wipes.  These services continue nonstop despite restrictions on society.  Supporting boys and girls in foster care is without doubt an essential service, and Arizona Helping Hands is here to help.

Please give some thought to the role you can play in spreading joy and hope to boys and girls in foster care.  There is no better time than Foster Care Awareness Month to lend your helping hands!

Dan Shufelt is the President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the Organization at www.azhelpinghands.org and contact Dan at dshufelt@azhelpinghands.org

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