On Thanksgiving, many families gathered for a feast with their siblings, parents and children. But, not everyone in Madison County is so fortunate.
Some of the county’s youngest are displaced from their family’s festivities, or have no home to go to at all. These children are in foster care or awaiting placement into a willing family.
There are 25 children in the county who are in some form of state custody, according to Madison County Children’s Services administrator Robin Bruno. Five of them need to be adopted. Eighteen kids from the county are currently placed into temporary custody foster care, while two are aging out of the system and seek to live on their own.
“Twenty-five is the highest we’ve ever had, to my knowledge,” said Bruno. “In 2017, that number may be higher because of turn over as kids wait to hopefully be reunited with their family.”
This is the main goal of foster care: to reunite these families after the parents sort out any issues that prevent them from safely caring for their children.
The problem is that there aren’t enough Madison County families willing to accept foster children.
“We almost always have the kids leave the county,” said Bruno. “This causes them to change schools, sports teams, doctors — it removes any normalcy that could help them through a difficult time. Our ultimate goal is to place kids into local families, but we simply don’t have enough foster homes.”
Even with assistance from the Buckeye Ranch, an organization that helps children’s services find local foster homes and provides financial assistance, there is a major gap.
“We have a local need for foster families in Madison County,” said Brandi Bare, who works for The Buckeye Ranch. “We can try to recruit, but if the support isn’t there we unfortunately have to move the kids into Franklin County, which has more homes available.”
In order to foster, families need to become certified. Some licenses require renewal every two years, and additional training is needed for those taking care of sick children.
From foster to forever family
While there is a strong support network within the county, many Madison County foster families have ended up dropping out in order to raise their own families.
• THE HOCHSTETLERS
Myron and Mandy Hochstetler fostered for nine years in their London home. They let their license lapse in June after adopting two young children they fostered last spring.
They cared for a total 19 kids; all except the two they adopted were able to re-unite with the birth parents. All of their placements were from London, which means the children stayed in school and were still around their friends.
But it can lead to awkward moments.
“We’ll be shopping and they’ll bump into a family member,” said Mandy Hochstetler. “The family member will walk up and talk to them without acknowledging you. There have been moments you bump into the parents, as well.”
Dealing with the birth parents can be daunting, in general.
“No two parents are the same. They’re always going to be suspicious of you at first. But, sometimes you end up making friends. It’s always a challenge but I’ve never had such a bad experience I wanted to avoid visits entirely,” said Mandy Hochstetler. “I never realized their own situations at first, and I learned quickly you have to get everyone on the same page.”
She said that as long that everyone accepts the ultimate goal is reunification, things can move smoothly.
Two young children, Maddie and Vinny, were the most recent kids placed in the family’s care. Both could not be reunited with their respective birth parents, nor were there family members who could take care of them.
So, the Hochstetlers decided to adopt the two through the foster-to-adopt certification. After the adoptions, they opted to stop participating in the foster program.
• THE STOLLS
Gary and Dawn Stoll, of Plain City, fostered many kids for eight years.
Like the Hochstetlers, the family eventually adopted some of their former foster kids in addition to their other children. More fostering was just too much.
“We knew a lot of kids out there needed a home. It was something we decided as a family we could do and be dedicated to doing it right,” said Gary Stoll. “Now we’re full, but we try to mentor others and help them go up against struggles we had when we fostered.”
The two host classes in their home at least once a month to help other foster parents who need advice and support while taking on what can be a daunting task.
“A lot of people come maybe to share frustrations and get someone to hear them out who understands what they’re going through,” said Dawn Stoll. “Sometimes we just come together and chat, maybe at a restaurant.”
• THE SKAGGS
Josh and Cara Skaggs celebrated Thanksgiving last year with the adoption of their former foster daughters, Nakiyah and Teaira. The family’s home was the sixth for the girls in about 18 months. They spent 955 days in foster care before they were adopted.
The Skaggs admitted there are struggles with fostering children. Bonds form easily, especially with kids who come into the care system at a young age.
“At one point, [our other foster placements] were calling us mom and dad, we were all they knew,” said Josh Skaggs.
Childcare can be a challenge for the foster families. Due to regulations, only qualified baby-sitters vetted by the government can watch foster kids for foster families.
“We’re lucky we have family and friends willing to go through the hoops,” said Cara Skaggs.
Adoptive homes wanted
Leaders are actively working to get more local families.
The Buckeye Ranch can support those who decide to foster children, with a variety of subsidies.
“Many parents do not think that they would be able to foster or foster-to-adopt due to some of the challenges,” said Bare. “When they find out the amount of support that they are offered from our agency they understand that this is something that is possible.”
One of the groups they would like to see help are “empty nesters” — parents of grown up children who have since moved away.
“Many of these people will say, ‘Oh I’m too old. I’m not sure what I could do,’” said Bruno. “But I always tell them, we love empty nesters. They have experience and the space to take care of someone.”
While both Bare and Bruno are actively looking for foster families, Bruno is looking for people to adopt.
“We keep recruiting for an adoptive home, but the challenge is to have someone commit,” said Bruno. “Most of the contact we get is for foster-to-adopt.”
Children’s services has five children in permanent state custody after their birth parents were unable to prove they could take care of them after spending 24 months to resolve their problems. The children have no other relatives to take them in.
“Everyone needs a family, these kids sadly do not have one yet,” she said. “It’s hard enough as it is, but now they have no family for the holidays.”
Those interested in more information on foster care can call the Buckeye Ranch at 614-384-7700. Those interested in more information on local adoption can call Madison County Children’s Services at 740-852-4770
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.