May is celebrated as National Foster Care Awareness Month to bring awareness to the need for more foster care families. In Tennessee, approximately 8,000 children are in foster care at any given time. With fewer than 4,000 open foster homes, the need for more foster families is considerable. Jawyanna and Jonathon Neal knew that fostering was the way to add to their family. They were certified back in 2019 and celebrated their first adoption, Christopher in 2020, and their second adoption of Maliki in 2021. The couple continues to foster hoping to give two more children a forever home and a caring family.
“We love that our kids feel that sense of belonging with a family because they never had that before. They are a Neal, and they will be a Neal forever,” said Jaywanna Neal.
Approximately 80% of the children who are adopted in Tennessee are adopted by their foster parents. The need for foster parents continues to grow as more children are without a family.
Here are a few nuggets of advice for families considering fostering:
(1) If you’re considering it, do it. Kids are always in need of a safe place to live or stay short-term. Youth Villages provides training and constant access to counselors and emergency services. You’re not in this alone. Foster parents undergo extensive training to prepare them for the challenges and rewards of fostering. Department of Children’s Services, along with partnering agencies, require this training to be a foster parent in Tennessee. Youth Villages’ Therapeutic Foster Care program also requires two additional trainings focused on trauma and Collaborative Problem Solving. Regularly scheduled check-ins and counseling sessions are required for both the child and foster parents, separately and together. Additionally, counselors are available 24-7 to help with situations that may arise.
(2) Don’t hesitate to make the inquiry. Qualifying isn’t quite as difficult as you think. Foster parents with Youth Villages must live in Tennessee and be legally employed or have verifiable income above the poverty line. You can be single, married for at least one year, or cohabitating with a partner for at least three years. You must be 25 years old with a driver’s license and reliable transportation and housing. Our recruiters can answer all questions around qualifying factors.
(3) Know you’re making a difference. Providing a safe home for a child makes an enormous difference in their lives. By keeping a schedule, letting the kids know you are there for them and that they can rely on you provides a constant and reliable routine that kids need.
(4) Keep the grit. Maintaining your resolve and determination to provide a safe, loving home for kids is the most important task for a foster family. Your kids may have experienced trauma in their previous home. Continuing to fight for them with their struggles can boost their confidence and help strengthen your relationship.
(5) Help in other ways. Not everyone is in a place to be a foster family, and that’s OK. You can help other foster families by providing a meal, running errands, or helping with yard work. Donations to local organizations can go a long way, too. Foster kids need toiletries, proper school clothing and supplies.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, you can sign up for an information session, certification classes (TN-KEY), or speak with a representative at DCS or another partnering agency.
Youth Villages – 1-888-MY-YV-KID or www.youthvillages.org/foster
Department of Children’s Services – 1-877-DCS-KIDS or www.tn.gov/dcs