Ohio experiencing urgent, unprecedented need for foster families

(WBNS)
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Ohio is facing a crisis of children in need of homes.

A record number of children are in the foster care system with not nearly enough families to care for them.

Tina Smith-Anderson's heart and her home are closed to no one.

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She took in her first foster child 13 years ago.

"And it was a journey. This child didn't know how to love, didn't know how to accept love. Just didn't know which way she was going to go in life. It was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever had to do, to take this child into my home," Smith-Anderson said.

And that was only the beginning.

"I've fostered 44 children," she said. "And I've adopted two."

Smith-Anderson says she's managed it with a circle of support and "by the grace of God."

From newborns to teenagers, to young pregnant mothers — some stayed a few days, some a few years.

All of them needed a safe place to call home.

"Just the basic small things that we take for granted — washing our faces in the morning, brushing our teeth, getting a hot shower — we take those things for granted, these children have never never had it," she said.

And the need in Ohio is greater than ever before.

"Right now, we have about 16,000 children in the state of Ohio in care. They're projecting about 20,000 children by 2020 — with only 7,200 homes. So we do not have enough homes. Sixteen-thousand children, 7,200 homes. We have to get more homes to help these kids," said Dr. Charisse Penn with Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY). "You don't have to live in a palace. You can be a single mom, a single dad. It doesn't matter your creed, nationality, sexual orientation. That does not matter."

Penn says if the gap isn't closed, these children could be taken out of state or placed in group homes.

"They need loving, caring families. They need individuals who are open-minded, they need people who are going to be patient, who are going to be adaptable, who are going to have an active listening ear to hear their hearts and to hear their concerns," Penn said,

It could change a child's life, but Smith-Anderson says it could also change yours.

"When you are able to hear 'thank you' from a foster child who has never had a home, a warm bed, warm dinner, just someone to get up and say 'I love you' in the mornings, hugging them, just kissing them," she said. "It is so rewarding, or that child to say 'thank you.'"

"These are children in our community. In Columbus, Ohio. In Franklin County," Penn said. "And they need us."

SAFY holds free foster parent training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Foster families also receive financial support and case management.

You can find more information at SAFY's website or the state's Foster Care and Adoption page.