According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), there are approximately 450,000 children in the U.S. foster care system on any given day. Wakendra Gourley, co-leader of the Lakes division of the Kentucky Foster and Adoptive Parent Training Support Network, visits Sounds Good to discuss the foster care system, the support network, and how to help children across western Kentucky find their forever homes.
The Kentucky Foster and Adoptive Parent Training Support Network is a statewide organization for both foster and adoptive parents. The network consists of 15 regional teams of experienced foster/adoptive parents. While supporting and training new foster/adoptive parents is the main goal of the network, it also works to recruit new homes for waiting children (defined as generally non-infant, school-age children who have become legally available for adoption).
"It's hard to believe sometimes, but right now, as of the first of August, we [have] about 9,600 kids in care in the state of Kentucky," Gourley explains. "Just in the Lakes region -- which covers Calloway, Graves, McCracken...Ballard, Carlisle -- those counties that we consider [to be in] the Lakes region, there are about 875 kids in care just in our region. You have all the way from newborns up to age eighteen."
Adoptive families are recruited within this network, but ultimately, temporary foster care is the goal. "Initially, we are trying to foster children to be able to return back to family members. In some cases, unfortunately, that is not able to happen and then, sometimes, those children need adoptive homes," Gourley says. There is no cost to act as a foster caregiver. "The DCBS (Department for Community Based Services) office provides an informational meeting and provides all the training that is required. Actually, when a child is placed in your home, you will receive a per diem. That is so much per day and that is just to cover costs for the child like ongoing school expenses, clothing, whatever that child needs. It is not to make money, but it is definitely to help with the cost of providing care for that child."
In some cases, the state of Kentucky can even assist families in making the transition from foster care to adoption. "Due to unfortunate experiences, sometimes there are cases where the child is not able to go back with the birth parents or there is no one available in the family that is able to care for that child. When that does happen, then the foster parent will be asked if they can additionally be able to adopt the child. When that happens, the state -- a lot of times, depending on the circumstances -- is able to help with that adoption to where the expenses are not astronomical and is very affordable and reasonable to be able to adopt the child," Gourley explains.
"I can say from experience -- we're foster parents for over fifteen years [and] we went on to adopt six children -- [foster/adoptive care] is very rewarding. I would be lying to say it's not challenging at times," Gourley says. "There are children that come into care that have been through a lot of tough experiences, a lot of things that they definitely need a lot of love and support to help them through, but I can definitely say it is one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever been through in my life. I feel very blessed. During those years, I fostered about fourteen children. Six of those then came to stay in our home. But I do want to make clear that with foster care, the initial goal is reunification. We want all children to be able to be with their birth family and to be back in the home that they're familiar with and that they want and desire, and that's what we want and desire for them."
While foster care and adoption can be a rewarding experience, adding members to a family is not an option for everyone. There are several ways you can help the network without fostering or adopting a child. "Sometimes it's just in simple ways," Gourley explains. "We sometimes have needs for new foster parents coming in that have basic needs of, say, cribs and clothing and items that are needed. We actually have someone who helps organize a list of things that are needed and that you can drop off at different locations. We also have foster parents who sometimes just need respite. Like I said, sometimes you face some challenging things and just need a little bit of a break or some help. we have people who are trained to be able to provide respite for those families. Say, just like a Saturday and Sunday, [they'd] be able to help take care of that child or if a family emergency or something comes up."
"Of course, there's always the need for foster families," Gourley continues. "We do have a few families who come in who are wanting to adopt, and maybe they just stay on the list if there's a child that can't be returned [to their birth family]. Unfortunately, not all of our foster parents are able to adopt and they just foster. So we do have a few of those families that are waiting, if the foster family is not able to adopt, [to then be] moved onto an adoptive home. There's a lot of different levels where if someone was wanting to help, that they can inquire. I can be contacted with one of the co-leaders of the network team. Someone could contact me, or we also have the DCBS regional office. There's R&C, which is Recruitment and Certification, and they can be contacted at 270-247-2979. If someone wants to learn more information, they actually have an informational meeting that is the second Monday, usually of every month. That's about a three-hour informational meeting, and they are there to present all the information and to answer any questions that anyone might have regarding foster care or adoption."
To learn more about the Kentucky Foster and Adoptive Parent Training Support Network, you can visit the Murray State website, the Murray Department of Community Based Services at 3415 US-641 N, or the Kentucky Foster Adoptive Caregiver Exchange System's website. Wakendra Gourley can be contacted at email@example.com or 270-853-7222. Gourley's co-leader of the Lakes division, DeAnna Miller, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-627-2264.
"Hopefully, the community can learn of more needs that we have out there. There may be someone willing to step up and help, and they would be greatly appreciated," Gourley concludes.