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.
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“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 nine-month 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 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 sate 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.”
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.”
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.”