TOLEDO, Ohio — There is an urgent need for foster parents across the U.S. According to OhioGuidestone's Foster Care Regional Coordinator, Allison McQueen, data has shown there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system. And in Ohio, there are 16,000 kids waiting for foster homes.
Of those children, a subgroup is referred to as medically fragile. They are kids who need medical treatments and/or specialized care and equipment.
McQueen said they're even harder to place due to the lack of homes. And of the homes available, those families are not equipped to care for them.
Theresa and Jerome Howard said any and all families should consider taking on medically fragile children, which is "not such an ugly word," they said.
"They were born too soon, so there's a lot of things that haven't developed yet," they said. You just have to nurse them through that stage. Then, all of the sudden, that's like, 'wow, here we go.' That first rollover, or that first 'hi' and you're like, 'did you just talk?"
The couple currently has six biological children and four adopted children. Together, they've raised theirs and have been fostering for more than 14 years.
"It's a good feeling when you see the change in the child over time," Jerome said. "And their ability to do things on a normal level really makes a world of difference. It's heartfelt when you see them grow."
During the 14 years the Howards have been fostering, they've cared for medically fragile children, who due to issues such as abuse, neglect, illness, congenital disorder or brain injury, need some type of medical care.
But, that's never stopped them from taking in nearly 40 children over the years.
"When you come to the Howards, you're a Howard," Theresa said, "I don't care what your last name is. We travel together, we vacation together, our ups and downs are together. Our family heartbreaks, our family struggles. When we're happy. It doesn't matter what your name is."
Jerome said, on average, they'll foster a child for about two years.
"These kids don't have anywhere to go," she said. "There's a bunch of stuff in the news, if you google kids in foster care you're going to see it. They're in residentials, they're in city and county places waiting. They need somewhere safe so their families can either get the help that they need to make it safe or possibly a new family depending on the circumstances."
Janet Osborne heard the call and decided to become a foster parent herself.
"You don't have to be a perfect person or have the perfect home to be a foster parent. You just have to want to make a difference in a child's life," Osborne said.
She said her upbringing in a large family is why she's becoming a foster parent. She's already familiar with the foster care system, having done respite for a number of years and working as a court-appointed special advocate for children during court cases. Osborne said these experiences have made her even more ready to foster.
"I feel like everyone ends up in the place that they're supposed to be, whether that's with an adoptive family, whether it's returning home, or possibly with me," she said.
McQueen said OhioGuidestone is ready for Lucas and surrounding county families to start their processes of becoming foster families.
"I'm going to work really hard with the people to put the right kids into homes because moves hurt kids," McQueen said.
Osborne said the process of applying to become a foster parent usually takes anywhere from six to 12 months. Osbourne said it's only taking her about six months.
"There's a very real chance that I could have a placement for the holidays," she said.
For information on how to become and what the qualifications are to foster, click here.