A shortage of foster care homes in Jefferson County has created a waiting list of roughly 90 local foster children waiting for placement, an official with the Arkansas Division of Child and Family Services said Thursday. Countywide there are 22 homes open to accept foster children. The lack of space means that more than half of local foster children are sent to other counties, said DCFS resource worker Kamesha Youngblood.

Youngblood spoke Thursday at a meeting in Wabbaseka of the non-profit Children for Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime (CALL). The CALL was founded in 2007 to urge Christian families to help alleviate what its organizers referred to as a crisis in the Arkansas foster care system.

Chris Phillips and his wife, Rachel, are the CALL coordinators for Jefferson County. He said the organization takes its mission from James 1:27, which calls Christians to “look after orphans… in their distress…” Phillips said Thursday that an average of 12 children are brought into foster care each day in Arkansas, joining roughly 4,500 in custody, with 500 waiting to be adopted.

Phillips urged local churches to get involved to help with the problem.

“Ninety children are waiting,” he said. “Jefferson County has something like 400-some-odd churches. If you get one family from each church to do what we’re wanting them to do, James 1:27, you ain’t got no crisis. Kids aren’t waiting. Then you’ve got homes waiting [if more children come into the system]. If we can just get the church to do their part.”

Chris and Rachel Phillips can be reached at 501-515-9652 or jeffersoncounty@thecallinarkansas.org. The Jefferson County Office of the state Department of Human Services, which oversees DCFS, can be reached at 870-534-4200. For more information about becoming a foster parent, visit www.fosterarkansas.org.

Children end up in foster care when their parents are unable to care for them. Often the reasons are for drug use, neglect or mental, physical or sexual abuse on behalf of the parents. The goal of the foster care system is to re-unite the children with their families once the parent or parents have met guidelines to reassume custody.

While foster children are in the custody of the state, they are placed in foster homes with the goal of providing “a healthy home with family life and community experience for a child who needs care for a limited amount of time while waiting for reunification,” Youngblood said.

The duration of foster care can last from 72 hours to 18 months, Phillips said. When reunification is not possible, the state’s preference is to find permanent placement with relatives or other adults with a close relationship to the child.

Many of the children in the foster care system have special needs due to abuse or neglect. As a result, Phillips said, it is often not easy being a foster parent. It requires a willingness to work with many different parties – from judges to caseworkers to doctors – and the patience to deal with unexpected behavior such as foster children running away.

Potential foster parents can list preferences when applying to “open” their homes to foster care, including age, gender and development needs. In particular, there is a shortage of homes to accept teenagers and siblings of foster children. The state prefers to keep siblings together and as close to their family as possible.

The state provides education training for foster parents and financial support ranging from $410 to $500 per month per child. Children in foster care receive Medicaid to cover medical appointments, and often must attend medical, court and other appointments as part of the process. Caseworkers can take children to their appointments when the foster parent is unable, Phillips said.

Eligible foster parents must pass a background check, be at least 21 years of age and financially stable, share information regarding background and lifestyle and all family members must pass a medical exam. Foster homes may not have more than five unrelated minor children living in the home.

A foster family must have a landline home telephone or cellphone in the home at all times and provide a minimum of three references (family and non-family) who are familiar with the applicant’s child-caring abilities. Other qualifications include participating in an in-home consultation with DCFS staff, attending 27 hours of pre-service training and a three-hour orientation session to learn about issues relating to abused and neglected children.

Foster care can lead to adoption, which typically requires a six-month period for the child to live in the home and agreement from both the potential adoptive parent and the child that the adoption is a good fit. Time spent in a foster care home counts toward the six-month finalization period, Phillips said.

The CALL also needs volunteers for its Jefferson County affiliate, Phillips said. Volunteers are needed for such activities as church recruitment, church coordination, fundraising and family support.