May is National Foster Care Month, but for three organizations closely associated with foster care, they would like nothing better than for it to be Foster Care Year.
Brett Hillesheim, marketing director for Wellroot Family Services in Tucker, formerly the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, and Rachel Ewald, founder and executive of the Roswell-based Foster Care Support Foundation, agree the best part about this month is it brings awareness of foster child care to the general public.
“It brings awareness that these foster children are real and that the foster care in this state and country is a concern,” Ewald said. “If not for the awareness that this month brings to foster care, few people would realize they can help.”
The same holds true for Wellroot as the month, Hillesheim said, “means everything to us.”
“This is the time of year for the public to realize what we do year round, serve hundreds of kids annually who come through the foster care system,” he said. “This month is the one time during the year that the nation is focused on the foster care system.”
Wellroot encompasses more than 40 counties throughout north Georgia and contracts with the state to find licensed and approved homes for children in the foster care system.
While Wellroot works to find homes for foster children, the foundation provides clothing and supplies to children who have been abandoned by their parents or removed from their parents’ home due to parental drug use, the children being abused or neglected and put into foster homes or the homes of relatives.
“The biggest category of foster kids we serve are those who have been removed from their parents’ home and are being raised by their grandparents,” Ewald said.
Hillesheim and his wife have two biological daughters but have five adopted kids who lived with them first as foster children.
“Foster care is largely a hidden problem, and the public doesn’t know that children who may go to school with their children or even may go to church with them are in foster care or are at risk of becoming foster children,” he said. “This is a pervasive problem that, on a day-to-day basis, is hidden from the general public, and this month is a spotlight into that hidden concern.”
Ewald said her organization’s biggest need is funding to help provide foster parents with needed supplies to care for their foster children.
Monica Pantoja is executive director if the nsoro Foundation, a Buckhead-based nonprofit that provides programs and college scholarships for youths aging out of the state’s foster care system. Its name is derived from the Ghanan term nsoromma, meaning “children of the heavens.”
“We believe that youth in foster care – with so few blood ties they can claim – are part of a more divine family,” its website states. “Our name is always spelled with a lowercase ‘n’ as a constant reminder that what matters most is our accountability to these ‘children of the heavens.’
Pantoja said in the United States, every two minutes a child goes into foster care.
“We feel it is our responsibility that through no fault of their own, the foster children were born to parents who are unequipped to take care of them,” she said, adding this month is a crucial one for the foundation. “This is our most exciting month of the year. We love this month because it provides our organization, and many organizations like ours, to spread awareness for a cause that is at the edge of awareness.
“Most people think their taxpayer dollars are taking care of youth aging out of foster care at 18, which is simply not the case. Statistics tell us that at 18 years old 50% are immediately homeless and within 18 months, over 65 are homeless. … There is a tremendous need for more foster parents.”