Fostering Hope: A closer look at the need for foster homes in the Southern Tier

Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 2:32 PM EST
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(WBNG) - New York State is in need of foster homes, and the Southern Tier is no exception.

The most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows there are around 423,997 children in the foster care system in the United States. Of those 195,352 are placed in non-relative family foster homes.

For John and Jenna Stroud, becoming foster parents felt like part of their DNA.

“We were empty nesters and we were like ‘We’re free’ and kinda laughed at each other and said ‘No we’re not, there’s something else to be done.” said John Stroud

The couple has been foster parents now for six years. For Jenna, there was a personal connection.

“I was a foster child and I was in foster care from the age of around 8 until I was adopted between the ages of 13 and 15. So it took a while. I had been in different foster homes so growing up that was something I knew was a calling on my life.” said Jenna Stroud

Linda Mcmahon who has been a foster parent for five years had a similar calling.

“I came from a very abusive home and ended up in a group home myself,” said Linda who now uses her journey through hardship to help the young people who now call her house their home.

“Yes you were taken away from your family, a bad thing happened, but instead of looking at it as a bad thing that’s happened to you, use it as an opportunity to make your life a little bit better.”

Department of Social Services Director of Family Services John Choynowski said the reason why a child is in foster care varies from abuse to forms of neglect.

“Foster care is the last resort, we don’t want to place kids in care, we want to give families an array of preventative services to keep them out.” said Choynowski

In the state of New York the most recent data shows 16,385 children are in foster care. So what portion of those make up the Southern Tier?

The New York State Council on Children and Families developed the Kids’ Well-Being Indicators Clearinghouse or KWIC which keeps track of a number of things, including foster care numbers.

Statewide for every 1000 children under the age of 21, 2.9 are in foster care.

According to KWIC, local statistics are as follows:

  • Tioga County - 2.2 rate/1,000 children/youth ages birth-21 years
  • Delaware County - 3.6 rate/1,000 children/youth ages birth-21 years
  • Chenango County - 4.9 rate/1,000 children/youth ages birth-21 years
  • Broome County - 5.4 rate/1,000 children/youth ages birth-21 years

Broome County DSS said in early February there were 298 kids in foster care. Choynowski said when looking at this data there is a lot to take into account.

“Downstate I think they have a bigger array of preventative services that they can offer and I think that makes a difference in kids coming into care. I also think that each community has a different type of maybe economic factors , maybe drug factors going on, everything plays into it.” said Choynowski

With hundreds of children in the system locally, it is groups like Glove House and Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference that not only place kids, but train foster parents.

“There is never going to be enough homes. We get calls everyday looking to place children.” said Rachel Gow, Program Manager for Glove House.

They said that the hardest groups to place in foster homes are older teenagers and larger sibling groups.

“The need for foster parents and new foster homes is ongoing. Our homes fill up fast when kids are placed and a lot of our homes that go to the point of adopting a child close after that.” said Aliscia Gaucher, Director of home finding for Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference.

Glove House and Children’s Home recruit, license and support foster parents while also providing support through consistent training.

“The more educated our foster parents can be the better we can do a service to these children and help them through the most difficult time in their life.” said Gow

They also work with families on the ultimate goal, getting the child home.

“People are very surprised when they hear you’re trying to get the child back home, but we have to remember that everyone makes mistakes and there is usually reasons behind that explain the parents behavior, they have their own trauma, they have their own past struggles.” said Ashley Fitzgerald, Senior Case Worker for the Close to Home Foster Care Program at Children’s Home

While the need for foster homes is great, the job of these organizations is also to make sure families are prepared.

“When looking at prospective foster parents we’re really working with them on assessing what’s going to work for their own family. Although we need new homes, we need to make sure the families who are doing the work of having kids placed with them are equipped and have really taken the time to think about what a placement of a child or a sibling group , what impact that’s going to have on their family.” said Gaucher

Gow said while it can be a roller coaster ride for both the families and the child, you can truly make an impact on the child’s life.

“There will be challenges and their may be loss at times whether it’s loss for the youth or maybe loss for the foster family because the youth goes home, but there will be healing, there will be happy memories being made. I would say as difficult as the process may be it’s very rewarding.” said Gow.

In the past few years due to the Family First Act, there has been a shift towards Kin care, or kids being placed with someone they already know which professionals say is usually better for the child.

However, when this is not possible, foster parents like Linda, John, and Jenna know they play a vital role.

“I want a child to know that they are going to be fought for, they don’t have to fight for themselves.” said John Stroud.

“We love working with the kids, we enjoy them, we have fun we do silly things and it’s hard too. We have melt downs, we have more trauma stuff that my kids never had to deal with, but at the end of the day the reward is greater.” replied Jenna Stroud

“I love watching a child progress and get away from being this scared traumatized child to just flourishing and being able to feel safe again and play. I think the most rewarding thing for me is bringing them into my home and forever long that’s going to be, giving them a family while they’re parents navigate what needs to be done.” said Linda Mcmahon

One of the hopes for DSS, the non profits, and foster parents is to decrease the length of time a child is in foster care. According to DSS, in Broome County for the last five years around 63% of the kids are in care for more than 13 months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted aspects of the process from hardships in home visits, to online training’s.