Published 5:30 a.m. ET July 8, 2022 Updated 9:30 a.m. ET July 8, 2022
Marion County Children Services (MCCS) is reaching out to the community in hopes of attracting more families and individuals to become foster parents. Elizabeth Moore, foster care and community engagement coordinator, said there is a dire need for foster parents in Marion County.
“Our big priority is to make sure we have kids placed in local (foster) homes,” she said. “We currently have 33 foster homes (licensed in Marion County). We have 58 kids currently in foster care. As of April of this year, we have experienced a 20% decrease in the number of foster families from a year ago.”
According to statistics provided by Marion County Children Services, 281 children were placed in either foster or kinship care in 2021. The agency placed 103 children in foster care settings last year. Another 178 children were placed in kinship care with either family or friends.
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Cameron Phelps, who works in placement services at MCCS, explained some of the reasons why the agency has lost so many foster families from 2021 to 2022.
“We’ve lost a couple (of families) who have become adoptive families. We’ve lost a few who have moved out of state or who have just experienced changes to their own lifestyles,” Phelps said. “Some of our foster families don’t feel like they can keep taking kiddos due to just feeling overwhelmed. We more kiddos coming into care than we have foster families, so a lot of them are feeling burned out, exhausted, they feel like they’re being stretched too thin. Some of them don’t feel like they have enough support or resources here in Marion County.”
Phelps said Be the Village Marion is an organization that is committed to connecting with and supporting foster families and also engaging children’s birth families to help “break the cycle of abuse and neglect” the often leads to children being separated from their families.
“We’ve seen more organizations stepping up to provide resources and just give some support to families,” he said.
Moore said removing a child from their home is a last resort and only occurs if ordered by the court system. She noted that when a child is removed, the priority is to find a family member to place them with or a friend of the child’s family.
“A lot of people have this picture that abuse or neglect is reported and investigated and we just out and take a child and put them in a home with a family they’ve never met. That’s not how it works anymore,” Moore explained. “Our agency does a lot with kinship services. We have access to a program that helps us do extensive searches for family. So if I have to remove a child, the very first thing that we do is we ask that family, who is your support system. They may give us names and numbers of grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, someone they go to church with. We do everything that we can to minimize that trauma when we have to remove a child.”
Moore noted that children “have better outcomes when they’re able to maintain those community connections,” which is why MCCS seeks to place them in kinship care first.
Following removal of a child from their home, the goal, as mandated by the State of Ohio, is to reunify that child with their natural family, Moore said.
“We’re always trying to get kids back home, back in a safe home,” Moore said. “How can we help make that happen? We have resources here in (Marion County) that we’ll link families to — our biological families as well as our foster families. We do ask our foster families to be a part of that reunification.”
Moore said she wants to dispel some of the misconceptions that people might have about who is eligible to be a foster parent.
“I know that I’ve heard things like, I thought you had to be 21, or I thought you had to be married, or I thought you had to own your own home, and those things are just not true,” Moore said. “We want people to know that we are very accepting of a wide range of people when it comes to being foster parents. We have single moms. We have single dads. We have people who aren’t married that live together.
“We actually have a set of sisters who live with their parents and the sisters are the primary foster parents, but I know that the kids in their home get love from everyone,” she added. “So we have a lot of families that we can work with. We really want people to know that if they’ve ever considered (becoming foster parents), the best thing they can do is to call and ask.”
Marion County Children Services provides training for those interested in becoming foster parents.
“We host preservice training which is the required training to become a foster parent,” Moore said. “We host that at least twice a year locally. Then you have to have 40 hours (of training) every two years to maintain your (foster care) license. We also bring in training to help foster parents maintain their licenses.”
For information about becoming a foster parent, contact Elizabeth Moore at 740-386-0411 or by email at Elizabeth.Moore2@jfs.ohio.gov. Information is also available on the Marion County Children Services website at www.marionkids.com.
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Powell couple named Foster Family of the Year by Marion County Children Services
A few years ago, Randy and Hannah Riggs fostered a 4-year-old girl.
Being in an unfamiliar place and uncomfortable around men, the girl was frightened and ran out of the kitchen when she met Randy. Within a few days, the Riggs learned about the girl’s situation, which Randy said seemed “more like a movie than real life.”
About a month in, the girl became comfortable around Hannah and their two biological children. She eventually warmed up to Randy, saying she loved him after a family prayer. The child would stay with the Riggs for about six months before she was reunited with her parents.
Randy talked about his fostering experience at a recent Marion County Commissioners meeting, where they proclaimed May as National Foster Care Month. In addition, the Riggs were named the 2021 Foster Family of the Year by Marion County Children Services.
Foster Care and Community Engagement Coordinator Elizabeth Moore said the family was nominated by staff members and then voted by supervisors in March. Moore said the Riggs stood out from the 36 other foster families because of their willingness to take care of children of all ages.
“Their preferred age group is the younger kids, but they have even helped us out with a few older kids, and they just did a great job with them,” Moore said. “They had a lot of patience…and there wasn’t a single complaint from them about it. They were just so willing to be helpful.”
An obligation to respond
The Riggs first showed an interest in fostering when they worked in a residential facility in Chicago and became house parents to 10 high school girls. Then when the couple moved to St. Louis, they were exposed to the need of children who were in difficult situations.
“Those experiences opened our eyes more to the world around us and what the need was for many children,” Randy said. “Plus that foundation of our faith, the belief that we should care for those around us; those two just kind of go together. And so, once we saw the need, it wasn’t really something that we felt like we can say ‘no’ to. We felt like we had an obligation to respond to that need.”
In 2015, the Riggs became licensed foster parents in Indiana. They eventually went on to foster 10 children, including the 4-year-old girl. Three years later, the family moved to central Ohio and began working with MCCS.
Randy and Hannah have since taken in seven children. The Riggs have fostered children as young as infants and as old as 16 years old. Currently, they are fostering infant twins. Randy said they have had the babies for 14 months, which is their longest placement.
“As we approached the opportunity to be foster parents, we’ve tried to have an open mindset, that whatever call came through, we would be open to discussing the possibilities of having them in our home,” Hannah said. “And so, when we got the call, it just made sense that we have the ability to take them in and if we could help provide them a safe, secure, healthy environment at that stage of life, then we should give all we got.”
Due to confidentiality reasons, the Riggs cannot mention the twins’ names or how they were placed into foster care. However, Randy said the infants have adjusted well to their new environment.
Also adapting well are the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Mona, and nine-year-old son, Gavin. Randy said he and Hannah like to include their children in the fostering process as much as possible and that they enjoy seeing new placements come in the home.
“We look at ourselves as a foster family, not just foster parents,” he said.
“We think it makes them more empathetic people, makes them more understanding of people who are in less fortunate circumstances than they are. Our kids, at this point, they would probably think it was odd if we didn’t have other children in our home.”
The Riggs said they were surprised when they heard the news about being named Foster Family of the Year.
“It was extremely generous and kind and there are just so many deserving families that do this day in, day out,” Hannah said. “I just feel honored that they thought about us and that we can be that spokesperson to those who might be considering doing foster care.”
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