SHERWOOD, Ark. (KTHV) -- Hundreds of children in central Arkansas are waiting for families to give them a temporary place to stay. Governor Asa Hutchinson said one of his priorities this year is to make it easier to find them foster homes.
“We see firsthand the high caseloads that the caseworkers have to deal with,” Mary Carol Pederson said. “And yet, more and more children are coming into care. So it’s a great need. And they need more staff at the local level, and throughout the state, so I’m thankful for that.”
Pederson is a co-founder a Pulaski County Coordinator of The CALL. It is a statewide non-profit that encourages people to become foster parents.
She tells groups like the one she spoke to Monday evening at the Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church in Sherwood that she was initially surprised by the number of foster children in Arkansas. The CALL holds meetings at churches in part because Pederson feels her church did not adequately describe the number of children who need help.
“I’d heard about orphans in other countries that need our help. And they do,” she told the audience. “But we have temporary orphans right here in our county, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, that need our help.”
Pederson fostered, then adopted a child, nearly 20 years ago, and the experience changed her. She noticed that hundreds of children in the state foster care system are waiting to be adopted. Since children can only stay with a foster family for 18 months, there is a constant need for more foster parents, to provide children a good, temporary home, until they are either adopted or can go back to their families. Pederson’s goal now with The CALL is to recruit more foster parents so that there is never a wait list for children in need.
“In our county, Pulaski County, alone, we need 220 more foster families,” she explained. “Really, 500 total foster families are needed to meet the needs of kids in care right in our county. And then there are over 1,000 that are needed statewide.”
The CALL provides support for roughly 200 families in Pulaski County. Most of them are foster families, while nearly 40 chose to adopt. It guides families through the state Division of Child and Family Services’ application process. The organization focuses on finding parents who will take the least desired foster children: sibling groups, children with special needs, and teenagers.
“A lot of people, you know, are apprehensive about caring for teens,” Pederson noted. “You know, just because we’ve all been teenagers and we know how we maybe gave our parents some grief.”
Pederson’s first step is to help parents get over the fears she felt many years ago.
“There’s misconceptions about the kids in care,” she explained. “They think maybe they’re bad kids, when, really, it’s because of a safety concern in the home. Or, you know, they may think that they process is too daunting, where The CALL really tries to streamline that process.”
According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, 70 percent of all foster children will eventually be reunited with their biological families, and that is the goal of the foster care system. But they need a safe place to stay until then. Hutchinson included a funding increase for the Division of Children and Family Services in his latest budget proposal to speed the foster process, and he is not alone in hoping children find homes sooner, rather than later.
“I would just encourage, if people have a heart for children, that they would consider becoming a foster parent. Take that first step,” Pederson said, “just to find out something.”
The CALL has chapters in 41 counties, and each one holds a meeting every month at a different church. To find the chapter nearest you and learn how the group can help you become a foster parent, visit their website.