It was a cold evening outside on Thursday, but the inside of Corinth Baptist Church was filled with people with warm loving hearts.
The first informational meeting of "Uniting Kentucky - Next Steps" provided information and assistance to those wishing to help alleviate the large number of Kentucky children who need a stable and secure home setting.
Kentucky's First Lady Glenna Bevin was on hand to share her own personal experience about becoming aware of the needs of foster children. Bevin said she met a girl who had been playing with Bevin's children at a park and asked the child if she could meet the parent to set up a play date. But the girl informed her that she had no parents and was a resident of Saint Joseph Orphanage in Cincinnati.
That revelation was shocking for Bevin - but one that inspired her to launch an awareness program about the needs of foster children and adoption procedures. But when she asked about fostering or adopting a child, the administrator at the Cincinnati orphanage informed Bevin because she and the now-Governor had five children of their own, they were not eligible to adopt.
"I've learned since then that we could have adopted, that it was really up to the director and she said no," Bevin said.
Currently, there are 9,810 children in state custody in Kentucky. Of those, 2,743 have had parental rights terminated, making the child eligible for adoption.
Laurel County has its own share of children needing help. Information from Thursday's meeting indicated there were 137 foster children in Laurel County - and 6 who are eligible for adoption.
Advocates of "Uniting Kentucky: Next Steps" presented testimonial videos from several foster and adoptive parents who described the joys of sharing their love with children they did not give birth to, but whom they loved as dearly as their own.
But fostering and/or adopting these children is not all rosy. There are difficulties with adjusting with one another, and Bevin and foster parent Chris Johnson both stated that foster and adoptive families need support.
"Sometimes the foster parents need help and need a support system," Johnson said.
While many people looking to adopt a child want an infant, Johnson pointed out that there are many older children who also need a secure home setting with positive role models. And he added that many times, infants placed in foster and/or adoptive care are born with addition to methamphetamine, cocaine or have fetal alcohol syndrome. Some children also have medical issues that challenge their chances of adoption. Johnson added that many people say they could not serve as foster parents because they "would get too attached."
Johnson pointed out that while not everyone could serve as foster parents due to the likelihood that the placement would not be a permanent one, he added that there are several other options available.
Many social workers were also on hand during Thursday's program and were commended for the jobs they do. Johnson pointed out that while the goal of social workers is to reunite families, the social workers see and hear things that "are horrid" and also need support. Foster families are desperately needed to assist not just the children but the social workers as well.
The program also served as an informational meeting for potential foster parents, who were also able to complete forms for a background check and fingerprinting to apply for the programs.
Another advocate of the Uniting Kentucky program was John, who gave information about "wrap around care" that includes providing some relief to the caregivers such as adoptive or foster parents - by spending just one hour a week to give caregivers a break. Another option is to sit with the biological children so placement parents can spend quality time with the foster children as a respite parent or grandparent.
Churches can also help provide a security net for fostering families by welcoming them into the church groups and even offering support groups to help them network and brainstorm ideas and techniques in their respective situations.
"Educate your church on the trauma that these children and families face," he said, "and care for the biological parents of foster children. Often, the biological parents are seen as the enemy. They may have been raised in the same way they were raising their children. You can help by being a role model for them as well."
Other ways to help include providing a meal for the fostering family occasionally, helping do errands or providing transportation, helping do household duties such as laundry, cleaning or yard work.
"These families need a break sometimes or help, and if you can't be a foster parent, there are still ways you can support them," he said. "Find your place and take your next step."
Training classes for foster parents will be held on Saturday, April 20 and April 27 and will complete the training hours necessary to become a foster parent. Anyone wishing to serve as a respite worker can attend training on Thursday, April 25.
To learn more about Uniting Kentucky: Next Step, visit their website at WeAreKY.org/Uniting-Kentucky.