KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There are around 9,000 children in the state's foster care system. In March alone, more than 500 children came into the custody of the Department of Child Services.
All are waiting to find a temporary home, or one to stay in forever.
The need for foster parents has risen since the pandemic due to the financial impact it has had on many families. Despite the increasing demand for foster care placements, ensuring that a child goes into the right foster home can be a lengthy process.
“A lot of the conversation we start with is, 'What brought you in? What is your interest in foster care?'" said Jessica Vineyard with the McNabb Center.
She said those conversations are followed with extensive home study questions. They are meant to help the department understand if a child’s needs can be met at the home and whether it can be modeled to fit a child's individualized needs.
“Not every home is gonna be right for each child, it’s all about collaborating together as a team," said Vineyard.
The McNabb Center then offers foster parents up to two months of classes focusing on basic childcare, understanding the legal side o foster care and how to help with trauma. The classes help prepare families to take in another child.
“We get children with higher levels of needs who have ultimately been through significant trauma," she said.
From there, they’ll be able to make those crucial pairings between families and foster children.
“They have helped to give my life meaning," said Kellie Layden who has been a foster parent for more than 18 years. "They think I'm helping them but in fact, they're helping me. They give me meaning and motivation to get up and do the right thing every day."
Layden has taken in more than 30 children, mostly teenage girls. During her first experience fostering, she said she realized her calling.
“She said to me, 'Now what happens when my parents work their program and do what they’re supposed to do and I don't want to go?' I was like, 'Ok, this is where I need to be. I’m making a difference,'” she said.
Layden leans on her family, friends and her community of faith for support.
“The gift I've been giving is the gift of loving who many people would consider to unlovable," she said.
The bottom line is to find out where someone’s heart is and why they want to help, Vineyard said. Before being able to help foster children, people need to figure out why they want to foster in the first place.
The McNabb Center is having two informational meetings on May 18, one at 12 p.m. and the other at 5:30 p.m.
To access the informational Zoom, call (865) 544-5070 and speak with Janay Drost.
They're hoping to draw more attention to the need and engage families who are interested.
You can visit this page to learn more or to fill out an information request form.