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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Urgent Need for Foster Care

November 25, 2001

From time to time news stories appear about a baby being found cruelly abandoned and left to die in some awful public place, such as a trash bin.

The infant's plight tugs at the heartstrings and prompts floods of calls from kindhearted people eager to give that child a home.

Today, Orange County's Children and Family Services department has thousands of children that need a home in its care. Most are 7 years old or younger.

In some way, all of them have been abandoned.

But no phones are ringing off the hook. Too few people are offering these youngsters the home, care and love they need.

The problem is that their plight wasn't as dramatic--or as publicized.

Some come from broken homes. But most of them, about two of every three, have been either physically abused or dangerously neglected.

Many are available for adoption. Others, for now, need only a temporary home until their parents are better able to provide the physical and emotional care as well as the security that every child deserves.

While it's always best to keep families together and reunite them whenever possible, the sad reality is that it's not always possible, or in the best interest of the child.

So that's where about 3,600 children sit, needing care outside their original homes but getting no takers.

Many of these youngsters suffer the shattering double rejection of not being wanted by either their original family--or any other.

To help many of them find a home, the county is launching a drive seeking at least 200 more foster parents.

What is surprising, and disappointing, is that in a community as large, urban and supposedly enlightened as Orange County there are only 650 licensed foster families.

The need for more foster parents is constant not only because of the backlog of youngsters waiting for a home but because many foster parents--more than 100 every year--wind up adopting the child placed in their care.

The initiative was one of the recommendations last summer from a citizens' foster care task force. It also suggested the county hire more caseworkers and accept single adults as foster parents.

The county Grand Jury also identified the insufficient number of adults willing to serve as foster parents as a stumbling block to getting more children into a healthy home environment.

As dedicated as the social workers may be, and as well-run as the county's Orangewood home may be for children removed from their families, agencies and institutions are poor substitutes for parents and homes, even temporary ones.

It's hard to image that in a county of nearly 3 million residents there aren't at least 200 adults interested in calling 1-877-KIDS R GR8 to open their hearts and homes to children so much in need.

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