Agencies facing shortage of foster parents

A statue of St. Joseph with the Baby Jesus sits in an alcove above the entrance of St. Joseph Children’s Home on Frankfort Avenue. St. Joseph, which has been serving children since 1849, and Boys and Girls Haven are in need of families who can foster children. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

St. Joseph Children’s Home on Frankfort Avenue and Boys and Girls Haven on Goldsmith Lane — agencies with roots in the Catholic church — are turning to the Catholic community for support as the state faces a shortage of foster homes and the number of children in need rises.

There are more than 8,600 children in Kentucky’s foster care system, said Lisa Barber Atwell, assistant director of foster care and adoption at St. Joseph. Sixty-seven children were placed in the care of the state last month alone.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities, said foster care is a life issue; one Catholics must pay attention to.

“The idea that our church believes strongly in taking care of the children in our community whose parents are not able to care for them is written in the DNA of our local Catholic community almost as far back as you can go,” said DeJaco Crutcher, who is the Archdiocese of Louisville’s representative on the boards of both organizations.

St. Joseph, she noted, was founded in 1849 by German Catholic parishioners to care for orphans. Today, some people associate the organization only with the historic St. Joe’s Picnic For The Kids. But the agency cannot serve children without the Catholic community’s help, she said.

Barber Atwell agreed. As the number of children in foster care is rising, St. Joseph is facing a shortage of foster homes. The agency has placed 57 children in foster homes so far this year compared to 73 in 2019, she said. The agency is especially in need of foster parents for children age eight and older as well as children with medical conditions. Conditions range from type I diabetes to seizures, she said.

“We want to make the right match. It’s so important. They’ve bounced around enough already,” said Atwell.

She noted that it’s easier to find homes for younger children, but she hopes that people will be “open to hearing about them and make a decision and not get stuck on a number.”

Julie Greenwell, St. Joseph’s chief operating officer, said the children they serve have experienced trauma, so foster families need to learn how to care for them. Once a family or individual decides to foster a child, they’re not alone, she noted. The agency provides training and support around the clock to foster parents.

“Any person who feels called is welcomed — single, married, we need all types of families,” said Greenwell.

Josh Swetnam, who serves as a program director at Boys and Girls Haven, said the number of children needing foster homes is at a “point of crisis.” Swetnam said residential facilities in the state are full, pushing some children into hotel rooms.

His organization is also facing a shortage of foster parents. Like St. Joseph, Boys and Girls Haven — founded by the late Father James C. Maloney in 1948 — are in need of homes for older children, particularly teens.

While infants, toddlers and elementary-age children are easier to place in homes, many teens are “languishing” in the system, he said. “They need a home too.”

The agency places children in foster homes both inside and outside of Jefferson County. The children have experienced abuse and neglect and need families “who can be patient and nurture them. … Patience, persistence and time will help them feel safe and accept the love of a family,” said Swetnam.

Both agencies said they provide around-the-clock support for foster parents — including case management and therapy. St. Joseph offers a child development center on the facility’s campus, where foster parents get a 50 percent discount.

St. Joseph offers information sessions on the first Tuesday of every month at the home, located at 2823 Frankfort Ave., and training sessions for prospective foster parents will begin in January.

For more information about becoming a foster parent with Boys and Girls Haven, visit boysandgirlshaven.org/ or call 458-1171. For information about St. Joseph, visit sjkids.org or call 893-0241.

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