Most Champaign County children in foster care are placed in homes outside the county, many of them more than 50 miles away, says Stacy Cox, social services administrator of the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.
That’s because too few licensed foster parents in Champaign County have available openings or are able to meet the complex needs of youths in Champaign County custody. This is why CCDJFS is encouraging more local adults to become foster parents, including those willing to foster siblings so brothers and sisters can live together.
Cox said CCDJFS recently placed three siblings, all under age 7, in a foster home in Mansfield, about 100 miles from Urbana. A sibling group from the county has also been placed in a Toledo foster home, about 115 miles away.
“We prefer to place children as close to their biological parents and relatives as possible and to keep them in their home school district for stability,” Cox said.
Of Champaign County youths currently in foster care, 79 percent are placed outside the county, 40 percent of them more than 50 miles away. The furthest, 200 miles.
The number of Champaign County children placed in foster care is rising, Cox said. From 15 in 2014 to 24 in 2016. So far in 2017, 27. “The drug epidemic, especially with opiates, is the major reason for the increase. It’s not all of it, but plays a big part,” Cox said.
As a result, the cost of foster care for Champaign County children, funded with local, state and federal funds, has increased from $259,624 in 2014 to $479,134 in 2016 – and $381,253, as of June 30 this year. These expenses go toward helping foster parents, group homes and residential foster care facilities meet the children’s needs, such as food, clothing, utilities, special needs services and transportation to therapy appointments. Also covered are administrative costs of foster care agencies that make home visits, support foster parents and find solutions for children’s special needs.
Daily costs of foster care range from a low of $25 for children cared for in the homes of foster parents to $504.93 for children who must be cared for in residential care facilities due to severe behavioral issues.
CCDJFS also contributes to care costs of youths who are not appropriate for foster care but need intensive out-of-home treatment for high-risk emotional and/or behavioral needs. These costs are shared by CCDJFS through funding agreements with other agencies such as Family Court, Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties. CCDJFS’s portion of these costs has risen from $18,043 in 2014 to $81,654 in 2016.
‘Our calling in life’
Betty Puckett of Sidney has been a foster parent for 26 years, most of this time with her husband, Joseph, who is now deceased. They have fostered Champaign County children and many others – 54 in all.
“We both knew that foster parenting is our calling in life, and we just saw the kids respond to us,” Mrs. Puckett said. In 2010, they were invited to the White House to receive a congressional award for their commitment to foster children.
The Pucketts’ two biological children have supported their parents, who have adopted six of their foster children. “We discussed becoming foster parents with them, because it’s a family thing,” Mrs. Puckett explained. “We asked them their thoughts about it, and they were supportive. Our daughter, who was 14 at the time, had one request: ‘Just let me still be the oldest child in the house.’”
Mrs. Puckett’s favorite part of being a foster parent has been “seeing the children come around and be able to accomplish things they couldn’t do if you hadn’t been there to help them.”
They’ve had their challenges as foster parents, but also great successes. For instance, a foster child who went from failing in school to graduating as the salutatorian of her class and entering the honors program at Wright State University.
“I’ve loved helping them. We’ve had kids calling us from everywhere, still keeping in touch with us. It’s been a great life.”
Call for information on foster parenting
Champaign County residents interested in becoming foster parents may contact CCDJFS at 937-484-1500, ext. 2758. CCDJFS does not train or license foster parents but can refer interested people to private agencies that do. To be licensed, foster parents must pass a background check and home safety inspection and complete a home study and training in foster parenting.
Submitted on behalf of the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.