Credit: Olia Danilevich (Pexels)
By Sheila Ferguson

In recent years, foster care and adoption agencies across the nation have been challenged to locate and recruit new foster parents representing all racial and ethnic groups. The world needs foster parents willing to give children the tender, loving care they need to grow into healthy and productive adults. With the increasing numbers of Black children entering the system in Cuyahoga County, more African American families are needed to serve as foster parents who can care for sibling groups of three or more children.

Ms. Rhonda Wilson is a mother, adoptive mother, and community-based services worker in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. She recalls her last two decades of caring service filled with love and dedication. “It has made me a better person and a parent,” she says. In her career shift from a health insurance examiner to a systems-of-care specialist, Wilson has worked with many parents involved in the child welfare system and the foster and kinship families who give alternative care. Consequently, she understands parents’ struggles to care for their children, including the plight of teenage parents, those who are homeless, drug and alcohol addicted, the under-educated, jobless, or the incarcerated. She has also served children left orphaned by parental illness and death.

It is Wilson’s observation, and scores of others, that Cuyahoga County and the Greater Cleveland Community are currently in a crisis relative to the limited number of available foster homes to care for children in need. The Division of Child and Family Services’ July 2023 report backs these observations: 4,265 children were in care. Summarily,

  • 52% are in foster care,
  • 33% of children are in kinship care (i.e., care given by extended family or god-parents),
  • 2% live in group homes,
  • 6% are in residential care,
  • 3% reside in adoptive homes, and
  • 4% live in independent living.
RDNE Stock Project (Pexels)

Demographically, 49% of children in care are female and 51% male. By race, 25% of children are White, 64% are African American, 9% are Hispanic, and 0% are listed as multi-racial or another ethnicity. In addition, abuse and neglect are the leading causes of a child’s entry into care.

Wilson also notes that this “lack of licensed foster-to-adopt homes means that when families are in crisis their only hope for support comes from reliance on family kinship care providers or interested parties, friends, and neighbors who can lend a hand. Though families can be a significant source of support, all families differ in their capacity to give care,” she states. Issues can arise, as some families are small or strained by having more elderly members who are able to care for the children than young or middle-aged families. Others may be financially strapped and need considerable assistance in the form of subsidies. Still others may lack clean criminal records or a safe home.

Wilson says that “it is never a child’s fault that they have come into care.” Thus, children need loving and stabilizing foster experiences followed by a return home. Others may need long-term, or “forever homes.” The process of becoming a foster parent takes 2-6 months. It involves training, submitting your application packet, and completing a home study. To begin the process, you may also go online to complete an application at Foster Care and Adoption for Cuyahoga County.

To help with the crisis, Wilson calls all previously licensed and newly interested prospective foster parents to answer the call and sign on immediately. She states that anyone interested in becoming a foster parent should ask themselves the following:

  • Do I have a loving heart and commitment to caring for children?
  • Do I have a clean character and work history with no criminal record? Note: All prospective foster parents will undergo the Bureau of Criminal Investigations and FBI fingerprinting and records checks.
  • Can I give the time to complete the Foster Care Foster-to-Adopt licensing application and home inspection report to be prepared by the Division of Child and Family Services or any of the area’s Therapeutic Foster Care agencies: Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth  (SAFY), Beech Brook, Bellefaire JCB, The Bair Foundation, Catholic Charities Corporation, National Youth Advocacy Program or the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services?
  • Can I undergo 30 hours of foster-to-adopt licensing training that covers such topics as:
    • Car Seat Safety
    • Connecting: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity & Expression
    • Effects of Abuse and Neglect on Child Development
    • Identifying and Supporting Commercially Sexually Exploited Children
    • Infant Safety and Care
    • Medication Administration for Caregivers
    • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Basics Course
    • Prudent Parenting
    • Preparing Youth for Transitioning to Adulthood
    • So, You Have a New Placement … Now What?
    • Children with disabilities
    • Caregiving for Children with Sexual Behavioral Concerns
    • Caregiving for Children with Physically Aggressive Behavior Concerns
    • Youth Missing from Cars, and
    • Adoption Support?
  • Am I:
    • At a minimum of 21 years old?
    • Of sufficient income to meet my own basic needs?
    • In good physical, emotional, and mental health?
    • Single or part of a couple in a stable relationship for at least 1 year?
    • Am I willing to provide unconditional love and “inner standing” for a child who has faced challenges but deserves a chance?

Saying yes to every question means that you are ready to go. So seriously consider signing up to care for tomorrows youth TODAY!