By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
In caring for Kentucky’s vulnerable children, the church and state can find common ground, said Katherine Easley, a representative of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Speaking at an event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville, Easley said 9,654 children are currently in the foster care system in Kentucky. That number has made a steep climb from 8,000 children only two years ago, in part because of the opioid crisis, she said.
Easley and several other speakers discussed the issue at the Foster Care Awareness event held Oct. 16 at Holy Family Church on Poplar Level Road. It was organized by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Family Ministries Office in observance of Respect Life Month — a time set aside each year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to uphold the dignity of life from conception to natural death.
Ed Harpring, pro-life coordinator for the archdiocese, said foster care was highlighted this year because it is time to make the issue a priority.
He said in an interview Oct. 22 that the issue has become a crisis and he believes it’s one Catholics can “make a big impact on.”
State government representatives and members of the faithful gathered at the event last week to discuss how the church and state can work together to impact the lives of children.
Easley noted that more than 1,000 of the state’s foster children are from Jefferson County. In addition to opioid addiction, children also end up in the care of the state due to neglect, abuse and human trafficking, she said.
Taking a child from their home is the
last option used by state government, Easley explained. When it happens, the cabinet usually looks for a relative with whom the child can live. When that’s not an option, the child is placed in foster care, which is meant to be a short-term solution, she said.
When no foster parents are available, the children are put in emergency shelters and residential facilities. The goal is always for the child to be united with its birth parents — something that happens 75 percent of the time, she said.
Darren Washausen, executive director
of Orphan Care Alliance, spoke at the event about how the church and the faithful can make a difference in the lives of these children.
Orphan Care Alliance, a local non-profit, aims to help the church play a role in caring for children in the foster care system and those waiting to be adopted, Washausen said.
Washausen, a father to biological and adopted children, said he’s aware that everyone is not called to foster or adopt, but they can still make a difference.
Through Orphan Care Alliance Washuasen said, there are several ways that Catholics can make a difference for children in the foster care system:
- Become a “mentor” or a “life coach” to children in the foster care system who are nearing the age of 18. “One meaningful relationship can change a child’s trajectory, Washausen said
- Become a member of Orphan Care Alliance’s “Safe Harbor” program to accompany and support a young parent.
- Join Orphan Care Alliance’s “Gateway” online group which allows individuals to see and donate from a list of items needed by families struggling to stay together or be reunited.
Harpring agreed there are many “creative” ways in which Catholics can make a positive difference in the lives of these children.
Harpring encouraged people to consider becoming foster care parents. He’s also calling on individuals to get involved in various private homes for children. He suggested such activities as volunteering to read Bible stories, hosting an ice cream social, helping with homework or sending birthday and holiday cards.
He and his family host a monthly dinner for children who live on the Uspiritus-Brooklawn campus, said Harpring.
Children in foster care tend to need some essential items, such as duffle bags and toiletries. Harpring coordinated a drive with elementary schools in the archdiocese to collect these items and was impressed with the results so far, he said. Two carloads of these items were delivered to facilities where children are waiting to be placed in foster homes, he said. The collection will go on through the month of October and beyond.
Those who attended the event also heard about the joy of being a foster parent from Lisa Owen, a local mother who, with her husband of 39 years, has cared for 13 foster children.
Saying yes to fostering a child is “saying yes to the unknown,” she said. “Every case and every child is different.”
The one constant is that children in the foster care system “come from a place of brokenness,” Owen said.
She and her husband have two biological children. Owen said that after she had children, she became more aware of the plight of other children and wanted to help.
Friends questioned their decision to foster children, especially after they decided to adopt one, Owen said.
The experience was difficult at times, Owen said.
“Healing trauma and brokenness is a long and painful process, but it also brought beauty into our lives,” she said.
Owen said the experience helped her raise “strong and caring children” who know what “true compassion and sacrifice look like.”