INDIANAPOLIS -- The state of Indiana is facing an unprecedented need for foster families.
More than 16,474 children are currently in foster care in Indiana, a 15 percent increase from this time last year.
The state currently has 23,121 CHINS (Child In Need Of Services) cases, also up 15 percent from last year.
Half of the children coming into the child welfare system are age 5 and under, according to Sharon Pierce, president of The Villages, a nonprofit that trains and supports foster parents.
“It’s due to a tsunami of drug and alcohol abuse,” said Pierce. “We have never seen anything like it. Children are paying the price.”
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Indianapolis couple Ashley and Joe Steadham struggled with infertility for 10 years before contacting the Villages about becoming a foster parent.
“Changing the world starts at home,” said foster mom Ashley Steadham. “It’s these children that are forgotten. If we, as responsible adults, take these children in and give them homes and support and encouragement and love and teach them values, maybe it won’t be so bad in 10 years.”
On November 18, they welcomed a 5-year old boy named Kenneth into their home.
“He’s had a tough life, and he’s seen a lot of things that a child should never have to see,” said Ashley Steadham.
Steadham said while the goal of foster care is ultimately to reunite the child with a biological parent, that’s not always possible.
“When that’s not in the plan anymore, the child needs someone to raise them,” said Ashley Steadham.
Kenneth calls his foster parents “Mom” and “Dad” and next year, they will make their family official.
“We are adopting him,” said Ashley Steadham. “It just seems like a natural step. We wanted to make sure he permanently had a safe place, and he’s great.”
Joe Steadham was adopted as a child as well, and wants to give Kenneth a second chance like he had.
“You’re giving a child a home, that’s the pleasure of knowing a child will have somewhere safe to lay their head at night,” said Joe Steadham.
The Steadhams want to inspire others to welcome a foster child into their home, whether it be for a few days or a lifetime.
“You just go, go, go and your life feels really full,” said Ashley Steadham.
Sharon Pierce said children, especially young children, need unconditional love, structure and routine to become successful.
“We’ve had situations, because there’s such a great need, where a foster family will be licensed and 10 minutes later they’ll have a child placed in their home,” said Pierce. “In all my years, I’ve never seen the capacity so challenged.”
Foster parents do receive a stipend from the state, which varies depending on the age of the child and the child’s needs.
The Villages can help with other needs, such as providing baby furniture or toys for birthdays and Christmas, and the Villages is looking for donations.
Foster parent candidates must complete state licensing requirements that include:
- 20 hours of pre-service training
- Physical exam
- Child abuse and sex abuse registry checks
- Criminal background checks
- Positive references
- Stable income (able to meet own family’s needs)
- Home visits and environmental checks
- First Aid, CPR, and Universal Precautions Certifications
317-775-6500 or 1-800-874-6880
The Indiana Department of Child Services: http://www.in.gov/dcs/fostercare.htm