In the last year, 49 Johnson County kids have needed a safe place to call home. When the state determines that a parent is unfit or a home is no longer safe, children are taken into protective custody. That means the child might be placed with other family members or with a foster family.

Unfortunately, foster parents are in short supply. And in Johnson County the need is now desperate for foster parents and respite care providers – individuals who can provide needed breaks for foster parents.

There are several factors that contribute to Johnson County’s current shortage of foster parents, including the retirement of some long-time foster parents. An increase in cases of large sibling groups has also caused challenges as sibling groups are more difficult to place. The number of children with severe emotional, behavioral or mental health needs has also ticked up, and specially trained therapeutic foster parents are exceedingly rare.

The job of fostering children has never been easy, and it’s not for everyone, said Compass Center for Families Executive Director Susan Carr. But for those who are able, fostering children is “just about the most beautiful gift you can give a child.”

Carr said that the No. 1 concern she hears from families considering becoming foster parents is that they are afraid of getting attached to a child and then returning that child to their family.

Carr said that concern is well placed, but people who fear that kind of attachment are exactly the kind of person the child needs in his or her life.

“You love on these children, you nurture these children and then they go back home,” she said. “And that can be heartbreaking, but knowing you took care of a child who needed you at that particular time offsets that heartbreak. You go in knowing that your job is temporary. Just love on them and provide them a safe place until mom and dad can do it themselves.”

The need for respite care providers is also huge and unmet. Like foster parents, respite care providers must be screened through the Department of Family Services and be trained. Respite care providers can provide a much-needed break for foster parents or provide care when foster parents must travel for work. The state also has need of respite care providers who can provide relief for parents of special needs children. Respite care providers offer essential breaks for parents, and sometimes the thing a parent needs most is an afternoon to themselves.

There are other formal ways of ensuring every kid in Johnson County has the best shot possible, including volunteering as a mentor or serving as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA).

More informally, volunteering with a school, library, church or sports team puts you in contact with kids, some of whom really need an adult in their life who cares about them and is looking out for them.

These are children. And they need our community now.

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