Lo­cal group re-imag­ines fos­ter­ing, urges churches to step up

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY JOHN MARKS jmarks@fort­mill­times.com

A grow­ing need, an ages old call. Fear, frus­tra­tion, ig­no­rance — rea­sons not to help abound.

One group aims to si­lence them.

“We be­lieve it’s a man­date,” said Betsy Ruch, co-founder of the Lake Wylie-based non­profit Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily. “Many peo­ple do not even know what the foster sys­tem looks like, how a kid gets in the foster sys­tem, who takes care of them. We’re try­ing to open up the eyes of the church that it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to take care of these kids.”

Ruch isn’t talk­ing about one church specif­i­cally. Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily, af­fil­i­ated with Georgia-based Live The Prom­ise, be­gan about a year ago as an ef­fort to sup­port and equip fos­ter­ing fam­i­lies from churches through­out York County.

“We’re see­ing a need, see­ing the solution and mak­ing it hap­pen,” said Kim Trainer, Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily co-founder. “There’s re­ally noth­ing like what we’re do­ing in South Carolina.”

Two years ago, Trainer met with a group of po­lice of­fi­cers. She asked what they see as the most press­ing need. The an­swer – foster care – sur­prised her.

“That be­gan a jour­ney of find­ing out what’s go­ing on,” Trainer said.

Ruch and her hus­band, af­flu­ent empty-nesters, were strug­gling with four foster chil­dren they re­ceived after a ninemonth ap­proval process. Even­tu­ally, they stopped fos­ter­ing.

“It was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult,” Ruch said. “It was in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing on a whole lot of lev­els.”

Sim­ply re­cruit­ing more foster fam­i­lies wouldn’t do much good, if new fam­i­lies exit the sys­tem as quickly as they come into it.

“I’m like, if they’re hav­ing a hard time, can you imag­ine

AS OF OCT. 2, SOUTH CAROLINA HAD 4,702 CHIL­DREN IN FOSTER CARE. THE STATE HAD 1,670 FOSTER HOMES, OR ONE FOR EVERY 2.8 CHIL­DREN. THOSE FIG­URES DON’T IN­CLUDE GROUP HOMES, AC­CORD­ING TO STATE DEPART­MENT OF SO­CIAL SER­VICES DATA.

how other peo­ple are do­ing?” Trainer said. “Most peo­ple that foster are one-and-done. It’s just too hard.”

There is un­cer­tainty. There are chang­ing fam­ily dy­nam­ics. Foster fam­i­lies need help when they get a call in the mid­dle of the night for a place­ment, and they don’t have di­a­pers. Some­times, Ruch said, they need “some­body to cry with you when they’re tak­ing the baby away, and you need to grieve.”

Trainer fig­ures if there are peo­ple will­ing to foster amid those chal­lenges, her group can of­fer sup­port.

“We’re re­ally go­ing through that jour­ney with them,” she said. “Not ev­ery­body is go­ing to be called to be foster par­ents, but we can all do some­thing.”

As of Oct. 2, South Carolina had 4,702 chil­dren in foster care. The state had 1,670 foster homes, or one for every 2.8 chil­dren. Those fig­ures don’t in­clude group homes, ac­cord­ing to state Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices data.

In York County, there were 169 chil­dren and 75 homes, or 2.3 chil­dren per home.

In Ch­ester County, there is a foster home for every 2.7 chil­dren (19 chil­dren to seven homes).

The Lan­caster County rate is higher than the state at 3.7 chil­dren per home (92 chil­dren to 25 homes).

The statewide goal is a home per every foster child.

THE FACE OF FOS­TER­ING

Patti and Os­car Pitzer of Rock Hill started fos­ter­ing a dozen years ago and have seen more than 60 chil­dren.

“We were Sun­day school teach­ers,” Patti Pitzer said. “We had some chil­dren in our church that en­cour­aged us to be­come foster par­ents. We started from there.”

Pitzer hasn’t worked with Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily, but she feels the same man­date as the group.

“I do be­lieve we’re all called to foster,” Pitzer said. “All of us are, as far as scrip­turally.”

With DSS of­ten re­port­ing scores more chil­dren than homes at a time in York County, Pitzer has the same vision as Trainer and Ruch: For every church to have one fam­ily foster.

“We’d solve the prob­lem in York County,” Pitzer said. “One half of this county doesn’t know how the other half lives. These are county chil­dren. There’s a huge need. And it is hard.”

Some York County churches are help­ing.

Catawba and Cal­vary Bap­tist churches in Rock Hill host fos­ter­ing events. Manch­ester Creek Com­mu­nity Church runs a con­fer­ence train­ing foster par­ents can use to­ward re­quire­ments.

Oak­dale Bap­tist in Rock Hill, For­est Hill Church in Fort Mill and Flint Hill Bap­tist have cloth­ing clos­ets.

First Bap­tist in Fort Mill of­fers a min­istry to en­cour­age adop­tion and fos­ter­ing aware­ness.

“GLOW was started out of per­sonal de­sire to serve vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren,” said Mendy Bax­ter, who leads the min­istry with hus­band Sean. “Our re­cent em­pha­sis has been on serv­ing the chil­dren monthly at the Chil­dren’s At­ten­tion Home, main­tain­ing the Lifesong Adop­tion Fund for needs that arise, and min­is­ter­ing per­son­ally to some of our church fam­i­lies that strug­gle through some of the hard­ships of the hurt­ing child they have brought home through adop­tion.”

Some GLOW fam­i­lies have tried fos­ter­ing, but stopped be­cause of the strug­gles, Bax­ter said.

“The amount of prepa­ra­tion and sup­port needed for fam­i­lies in foster care is huge,” she said. “An area of min­istry strongly needed.”

There are other op­tions than long-term fos­ter­ing . One is emer­gency care, fos­ter­ing for a night or two to give an on-call so­cial worker time to find a proper place­ment. Pitzer says those place­ments hap­pen a half dozen or so times a month.

“There’s a great need right now for emer­gency care,” Pitzer said. “They’ll call me in the mid­dle of the night and say ‘I have an emer­gency place­ment, can you take them?’ And we do.”

‘‘

THERE’S A GREAT NEED RIGHT NOW FOR EMER­GENCY CARE. THEY’LL CALL ME IN THE MID­DLE OF THE NIGHT AND SAY ‘I HAVE AN EMER­GENCY PLACE­MENT, CAN YOU TAKE THEM?’ AND WE DO.

Patti Pitzer of Rock Hill, who has fos­terd more than 60 chil­dren dur­ing the past 12 years with her hus­band Os­car

A GROW­ING NEED

Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago, cited by the non­profit Ju­ve­nile Law Cen­ter, show chil­dren who spend time in foster care are more likely to face teen preg­nancy, pro­longed un­em­ploy­ment, the lack of a high school de­gree and in­car­cer­a­tion com­pared to the over­all pop­u­la­tion. Death row in­mates, other stud­ies show, in­clude a dis­pro­por­tion­ate rate of for­mer foster chil­dren.

“Even if you don’t have a sym­pa­thy specif­i­cally for chil­dren, you can say we have to pre­vent this for so­ci­ety,” Ruch said.

The need for foster fam­i­lies is grow­ing. The more than 4,700 chil­dren statewide in foster care in Oc­to­ber is an in­crease of al­most 200 chil­dren from a few months prior. For the most re­cent fis­cal year, end­ing in June, there were 4,518 chil­dren in foster care, an in­crease of 26 per­cent — nearly 1,000 chil­dren — from four years ago. Of that num­ber, 69 per­cent were age 12 and younger.

“We feel like it’s not that peo­ple don’t care,” Trainer said. “It’s that peo­ple don’t know.”

Some place­ments are more chal­leng­ing. The 280 foster chil­dren in York, Lan­caster and Ch­ester coun­ties in Oc­to­ber in­cluded 84 chil­dren con­sid­ered med­i­cally frag­ile, or re­quir­ing some type of ther­apy or ad­di­tional level of care.

“Most peo­ple, it just scares them to death,” Trainer said. “And we want to change that.”

Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily wants to lessen those fears, by help­ing pro­vide meals, yard work, babysit­ting and prayer, or just talk­ing with a foster par­ent while chil­dren play.

“Love alone isn’t enough,” Ruch said. “You need sup­port. You need on­go­ing sup­port. You need that vil­lage around you.”

NOW WHAT?

Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily is host­ing Or­phan Sun­day, an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized event through Chris­tian Al­liance for Or­phans, from 4 to 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at Good Sa­mar­i­tan United Methodist Church in Lake Wylie.

“That would be more fam­i­lies wait­ing on a list to foster and adopt,” Trainer said.

Pitzer knows what may start with a po­lice of­fi­cer show­ing up in the mid­dle of the night with a child in need of place to stay can turn into last­ing friend­ships with a fam­ily back on its feet.

“I re­ally do be­lieve that it’s a call­ing,” she said. “Some­times the only way to find out if it is for you is to try it.”

And, she says, there’s rea­son to try.

“It’s the kids,” Pitzer said. “It’s the kids, and the fam­i­lies and the suc­cess sto­ries.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For more on Fos­ter­ing the Fam­ily, in­clud­ing Sun­day’s event, visit fos­ter­ingth­e­fam­ily.org. For more on fos­ter­ing statewide, in­clud­ing how to help lo­cally, call 888828-3555 or visit dss.sc.gov.

TRACY KIMBALL tkim­ball@her­al­don­line.com

Christoph and Ash­ley Halver­son of Tega Cay sit with their son and three foster chil­dren Thurs­day.

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