It’s a fact there are more children in foster care in Crawford and Sebastian Counties than in any other part of Arkansas.
The need is high, the resources for children is staggeringly low. Current statistics show 590 children need to be placed in homes in these two counties alone, however, only 84 foster homes are available, according to the nonprofit organization, The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime).
In an effort to open eyes and hearts to the need for more foster families, The CALL invited community members on a tour of what being in the foster care system is like through the eyes of the child.
I was honored to be asked to board a bus, take on the role of a fictional–but very real child–and experience what it’s like in their eyes to be taken out of their home and processed through the system.
This is my account of the day:
Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, our group of about 20 arrived at an area church. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day. We introduced ourselves to each other, shook hands, and were eager about the journey we were about to embark on.
We weren’t told much about our day, other than we would be traveling to bus to different stops, stops children in foster care go through. Each of us were given an envelope, then we boarded a bus.
We did not know where we going. We only knew from the note cards in the envelop what our name now was.
For the day, I was seeing foster care through the eyes of 5-year-old “Derrick.” After the first stop, the bounce in our step was gone, and our eyes were opened to something I don’t think any of us were prepared for.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From this point forward I will speak as Derrick, as I lived what he did. *portions of this story provided via The CALL
This is where I live, a one bedroom apartment with my family. There’s not a lot of room for us. We only have one bed, and it doesn’t have any sheets, there is no food in the refrigerator, and there are holes in the wall.
Even though I don’t really understand, I overheard rent for this room is $500 a month. One day my mom and dad took me to the hospital with a hurt arm. They told me to say I fell off the swing. The hospital took x-rays and found all the other bones which had been broken before. The police came to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for several days. One morning, a lady talked to me about my parents. I didn’t go home. I went to a foster home.
I stayed at that home for two days. The foster home had too many kids so they took me to the Children’s Emergency Shelter in Fort Smith.
I didn’t have my clothes with me when I left the hospital. My caseworker says she will be taking me to buy clothes. My baby sister is not at the shelter with me. DHS found a foster home for her. I’m told this shelter is a place for kids ages 6-17 to stay during an emergency situation. Essentially, it’s a holding place for us until we can be placed or a judge decides we can go back home. We can stay up to 45 days here. There are lots of other kids here too, it can hold up to 24 of us.
I share a room with two other boys. There is a girls’ hall and a boys’ hall. We have a girls’ bathroom and a boys’ bathroom. We get four meals, have tutors, study time, they take me to my same school, and we have free time where we can play games.
There are some nice grown ups at the shelter. I have made a friend, too. My arm is still in a cast. I shouldn’t have made my dad so mad.
My mother and dad went to court. My dad went to jail, and my mother got in trouble for not telling on my dad. My dad used to hurt my mother too. I don’t know why my dad gets so mad all the time.
Court is really scary. There are lots of people in the hallways, and the lady in the robe means serious business. I watch as other kids look like they’re about to cry, wring their hands, and hang their heads low. I feel butterflies.
The judge will talk to my mother and tell her when I can come home. My new foster parents say if my mother follows the rules the judge gives her, I can go visit soon.
That happens, here:
I’m taken to a place called Steps. It’s a family resource center. There are five rooms where we can have visitation.
Visitation varies, I’m told. It can be once a week or maybe even twice a week. It can last anywhere from an hour to four hours, it just depends on the person and the situation.
All the visits are recorded and monitored by someone, sometimes in the room, sometimes just by watching the monitors.
I was so excited to see my mother! It seemed like a long time since I was taken away. My baby sister was there, too. We get to visit every week. I like riding the elevator. My mother told me that my dad would not be visiting. I am glad. We play games together. Mom always cries when we leave. Sometimes I do, too. There are other kids that visit their parents there just like us.
This is home now:
I lived in two other places before my little sister and I came to live with our foster family. We have lived here a year.
My foster mom (I call her ‘Mom’) tells me that we will be staying the weekends with my mother and her new husband. I met my new dad at STEPS. I hope he is nice like my foster dad. My foster dad never hits us. He says when we get mad, we should count to ten. Sometimes I go to my room and think about things until I calm down. I love my foster dad.
Earl and Natalie are my foster parents–but I call them mom and dad. There are four other kids in the house, and they really emphasize family. We pray together, eat together, and they’re really, really nice to me. They’ve been foster parents for three years and have fostered 19 kids just like me. One of them they adopted, and they may soon get to adopt another. They tell me the goal is to be reunified with my parents if the situation is possible. They still talk to the kids they fostered and their families. I think they may be the nicest people ever.
I am in high school now, and life is pretty good. I eventually moved home. I have two other brothers now. My new dad turned out to be nice. He has always taken care of us, and we have done pretty well as a family. I want to be a policeman and help kids who have been hurt. Also, I want to have a family of my own someday. I think I will be a good dad.