You have probably heard the saying “home is where the heart is” at some point in your life. There is an even greater chance that you have felt homesick for someone or something. Google defines home as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.”
Can you imagine being a child and not knowing what “home” is? Even worse, the holiday season is coming up, what if your only choice was to spend it in an emergency shelter or group home? For the many foster children waiting to find a temporary home or permanent home, these are a few of the realities they face.
In 2012, there were an estimated 399,546 children in foster care in the United States (childwelfare.gov). A little more than 28 percent were in home of a relative, and 47 percent were in the home of a non-relative (childwelfare.gov). More locally, there are 4,500 children in state custody. “This year, more than 7,000 children will spend time in foster care. More than 500 children are waiting to be adopted. There are 1,100 foster homes in Arkansas – too few to meet the needs of children who are taken into care,” reads the shocking statistics on THE CALL’s website. Unfortunately, many of the cases in Pope County are due to drug abuse.
THE CALL is an non-profit, Christian organization in Arkansas, working alongside the state, whose mission is to “educate, equip, and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for children in foster care in Arkansas.” Currently, the faith-based group has services being provided in 29 counties, and five counties are in the process of becoming “CALL” counties. Part of what helps progress the organization and aide with finding foster parents is systematically having representatives in local churches.
Missy Varvil, church representative at Dover First Baptist, and her husband Derek, have been ongoing foster parents for around three and a half years, in addition to having two biological children of their own.
“We had been considering becoming foster parents for a while. Finally, we just filled out a form online and took a questionnaire on the Arkansas Adopt and Department of Human Services website. After that, we attended an informational meeting and found out what all it would entail to be foster parents,” said Varvil.
At the time that they began their process, there was not a THE CALL set up in Pope County. “For six Saturdays, we drove to Conway for training,” Varvil added.
Through THE CALL, those hoping to volunteer as foster parents or considering adoption can receive training in Russellville during two “intense weekends.”
“After our hours were completed, our home had to have a walk thru to ensure everything was safe, anything from smoke detectors, locks on medicine cabinets, knives, all of it was checked. Once you finish training, a background check is required and the rest of your paperwork, and then you are considered an ‘open home’,” explained Varvil. An open home means you have been cleared to foster and or adopt.
Due to the large volume of children needing temporary homes, and some needing permanent homes, the Varvils became foster parents to a newborn baby the day their home was deemed “open.” “That happens quite often, there is a big, big need for foster homes in the area,” said Varvil.
When volunteers bring a foster child into their home, it is never definite how long they will be there. The Varvils have had children as long as 18 months and some for just one night. Over the course of three and a half years, they have had just fewer than 20 children in their home.
“The amazing thing is that even when they are in your home, it really feels like they are yours, and they need that. Sometimes people say ‘I do not know how you do it without getting attached’,” said Varvil. “So many of these kids need to know what attachment is, though, they need the bond and this teaches them how to make bonds,” Varvil explained.
When asked how she and her husband continually do this and face the challenges that would inevitably come with it, she said, “It takes lots of prayer. All children have issues, all children. These kids need the exact same things your own kids need.”
“The most challenging part is that it is frustrating to see the process for a child not moving quickly, for whatever reason. They need permanency and consistency and these processes just take some time. Opportunities are given to these children’s [biological] parents to make better choices. There are also so many kids in the system that it takes time,” said Varvil.
For anyone considering adoption or becoming a foster parent, Varvil says “While the process can be frustrating, it is worth it in the end. Anything worth having is going to be worth the wait.”
“When a child is waiting to be adopted and asking ‘When is someone going to adopt me?,’ or ‘Why is no one adopting me?,’ you just have to remind them that there is nothing wrong with them, that is not them,” explained Varvil.
So, where do children go when there is not an available home? According to THE CALL’s website, “Children are placed in emergency shelters, group homes or residential facilities. Siblings are often separated because there is not a home available to take them as a group. Nearly half of all children who enter foster care must be placed outside their home county because there is no room closer to home.” There are currently eight families going through training this month to become foster parents and/or adopt, but that is not enough to satisfy the large demand.
Because THE CALL is a faith-based organization, to open your home to the many local children waiting, you must be involved with a church. “ THE CALL tries to recruit through churches, which is why they try to have church representatives in many local churches,” said Varvil. If you are not ready for the full time commitment of adoption or foster parenting, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer or donate. In order to do foster parenting or adoption, training is necessary, but the process for volunteering is much quicker.
Some of the volunteer opportunities within THE CALL Pope County are helping in the office, providing childcare during THE CALL meetings and training, becoming a church representative, conducting CPR training, grant writing, notarizing paperwork, being on a prayer team and many more. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, adopting or volunteering, the next informational meeting is November 3, 6 p.m. at First Assembly of God in Russellville. For immediate information, THE CALL can be reached at 479-890-9035, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by visiting their website, thecallinarkansas.org, or their office is located at 1375 Marina Road in Russellville.