DuBOIS — There has been a huge growth in foster care, according to Lifespan Family Services Executive Director Patrick Shea.
The increase, Shea said, is largely for two reasons.
“One of them is the recent Jerry Sandusky situation where there were major changes to the child abuse reporting law,” Shea said. “That’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of additional calls to the Child Abuse Hotline and extra kids being placed.”
The second reason is the heroin and the opioid epidemic, he said.
“We’ve got children that have been placed with us because mom and dad were unconscious while the children were wandering the neighborhood. We’ve actually had children that the police picked up and had to report the parents because they weren’t able to care for the child because of their addiction,” Shea said.
“It’s affected a lot of things, and it’s really impacted even the state budget because they’ve had to come up with lots of extra funds to address the additional calls as well as the staffing needed to address the oversight of the placements,” he said.
Shea said Lifespan has approximately 100 foster parents throughout the area and they are always looking for more.
“All of our foster parents, of course, are reimbursed, but it’s not really pay,” Shea said. “It’s reimbursement for caring for the child. They volunteer in the sense that they’re giving up their home, their extra room, and their time. It’s very time-intensive to care for a child, but it’s very rewarding for them to see the improvements a child makes when they’re in a stable home environment.”
One of the things that happens, he said, is that the foster parents take in children and often those children may become available for adoption, Shea said. Then the foster parents adopt the youngsters they have, so they stop being foster parents. “There’s a constant need for new foster parents because the ones we have may be adopting or providing a permanent home to the kids that they take in,” Shea said.
Foster parents are a cross-section of the community.
“You’ve got well-to-do foster parents, you’ve got some that make just enough to cover their bills, just like in society,” Shea said. “There is a commercial that says you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect foster parent. The idea is whatever is out in the community is to be reflected with the foster parents. We have single foster parents, married of course, some retired foster parents, and some that work, of course. Everybody has to work to pay their bills. There’s subsidized day care to put the kids in day care if they go to work.”
“A lot of people who might think they can’t be a foster parent really can, like the single parents, or maybe somebody that had a long ago past issue that’s now been resolved. Lifespan does the required clearances and background checks. As long as they pass those, they’re fine,” he said.
He estimated that Lifespan has served hundreds of children since it came into being 10 years ago. There are approximately 15,000 children in foster care throughout Pennsylvania.
“It follows the population centers. Philadelphia is huge, and then Pittsburgh, and then your major urban areas,” he said. “In the past, there have been tons of agencies serving the big areas, and they ignored this area because it wasn’t cost-effective for them. With us being a non-profit, our focus is helping the kids and breaking even.”