‘Sometimes I don’t think God knows where I am’
By Kris Jacober
Three-year-old Sharon and five-year-old Marcella came to our home with the clothes on their backs. When they left after six months to return to the care of their mom, they had two suitcases full of clothes and a trunk full of toys. When they returned to our home five months later, they came in their underwear and T-shirts. Everything else was gone. They lived with us for another 12 months, until they went to live with a family in Tucson. One night before little Marcella left, we were saying bedtime prayers and she told me that she didn’t think that “God knew where she was.”
Desiree came to our home on the day after Thanksgiving. We were already fostering her two-year-old brother and she had another brother living with a different foster family. When the police removed her from her home, they told her to bring her most important “things.” What 13-year-old Desiree brought was a can of hairspray with her hairbrush attached to it by a rubber band. She was wearing her school uniform and slippers.
Most children who come into foster care come with nothing. They start down the path to a scary future where they have no voice about where or with whom they live, nor when they will find the permanency they deserve. It’s not that there aren’t foster families; kinship caregivers and group home providers care for children every day and try to give them the childhood they deserve. The problem is that the system is overloaded and there is no end in sight. There are more than 13,000 children in foster care in Arizona today. Last year at this time, there were 11,000, a number that was then considered unimaginable.
In the last six months, Child Protective Services reported that 4,968 children came into foster care in Arizona for the period ending March 31, 2012. That’s an average of 27 children removed from their home every day. They are taken from the only family they may have ever known and dropped off at the homes of strangers, or at a shelter or group home. Some go to live with family members they may or may not know. These children didn’t do anything wrong, except be born into families who would not, or could not, take care of them.
The bad news is that children in foster care are vulnerable and voiceless and at the mercy of a system that is too overloaded to give them the attention and consideration they deserve.
The good news is that they are living in a community of individuals and organizations who care about the future and well-being of children in foster care. I have been a foster parent for more than ten years and, during that time, I’ve witnessed amazing individuals, churches, companies, organizations and others move mountains to support children in foster care and their caregivers. If you are already involved, thank you for your help and support.
Kris Jacober has been a foster parent for 11 years and, during that time, she and her family have cared for 15 children. She is the executive director of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation and president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents.
What you can do
The Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation (affcf.org) makes awards to children in foster care for the educational, social and athletic activities that give them the childhood they deserve. Over the past 29 years, AFFCF has granted the individual requests of more than 23,000 children in foster care at a cost of more than $3 million. In its history, AFFCF has never turned down one request from a child that fell within agency guidelines. In the words of one recent recipient of an award for singing lessons, “Living in foster care ain’t easy, but you made it a whole lot easier. Once again, thank you.”
Become a Foster Care Review Board (azcourts.gov/fcrb/) volunteer and advise the juvenile court on progress toward achieving a permanent home for a child involved in a dependency action or out-of-home placement. Each volunteer is assigned to one review board, which meets for approximately eight hours one weekday, a maximum of 12 times per year (some rural boards meet less). Additionally, volunteers must be able to commit approximately five hours at home studying case information in preparation for the case review.
Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA (azcourts.gov) volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings. Your primary responsibilities include gathering information, providing written reports at court hearings, ensuring that children and families are receiving appropriate services and keeping the court informed.
Support Hope and a Future (azhope.com) by volunteering at Royal Family Kids Camp, Teen Reach Adventure Camp, Life 360, the Arizona Princess Program, and the Annual Christmas Celebration for children in foster care.
Donate a bicycle (recycleyourbicycleaz.com) and then volunteer to repair a few more bikes for the Recycle Your Bicycle initiative to provide bikes to children in foster care this holiday season.
The clothing allowance for children in foster care is $150 a year. Support the organizations that provide new and gently used items to children in foster care.
Jose’s Closet (josescloset.org ) in the Apache Junction/Queen Creek area, KIDZ to KIDZ (Kidz2Kidz@cox.net) in west Phoenix, Clothes for Keeps (clothesforkeeps.org) in northeast Phoenix, and Helen’s Hope Chest (mesaunitedway.org) in Mesa are looking for volunteers to help sort and give away clothing and the funds to help keep the doors open and the lights on.
The Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents (azafap.org) supports the loving families who foster and adopt Arizona’s vulnerable children. Help us help them with your financial and volunteer support.
OCJ Kids (ocjkids.org) connects businesses, the faith community and individuals with children in foster care living in group homes by bridging the two communities together in efforts to provide these young people with the tools to achieve success in every area of life.
Help a youth (age 5 through 17) or young adult (age 18 through 21) develop self-esteem and learn to take on life’s challenges through the AASK (aask-az.org) mentor program.
Become a foster parent. Visit azkidsneedu.gov and learn more about the children living in foster care and how you can provide a safe and loving home.