MERCER, Pa. (WKBN) – May is Foster Care Awareness month, and across the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, there is a critical need for foster parents.
Mercer County is holding an event in May called Meet the Foster Parents. The event is being held to inform people about the foster parenting program and what it takes to become a foster family.
According to Debby Jazwynski, of Mercer County Youth Services, the number-one reason that children end up in foster care is neglect. That could come on the heels of drug abuse, incarceration or other issues that cause a disruption in care or inadequate care.
The largest need for foster parents is with children 13 to 21 years old.
“Those kids are often times having to go to group homes or placed out of the county, sometimes four or five hours away from their home or community,” Jazwynski said.
The agency works to find foster families within the county to keep children in familiar surroundings and to allow for family visitation. It is also important to keep children in the same school so grades are not impacted.
“Studies have shown that every time a child moves from school to school they lose about four to six months of education every time they are moved,” Jazwynski said.
Right now, the county has 39 children in foster care.
Resource Caseworker Kendra Manning said the decision to commit to foster parenting is an important one. Candidates must be willing to open up their home and treat the foster child like family, offering support, encouragement and guidance.
“These children need to experience what having a normal family is like,” Manning said.
To become a foster parent, you have to be at least 21-years-old, have an established residence by owning or renting a home, pass a criminal background check and love children.
For those that want to help out but don’t want to foster full time, there are opportunities in respite or short-term care available.
“That’s giving our current foster parents a break on the weekend or if they have a family sickness or an emergency they may need another foster parent to take care of their child,” Manning said.
Meet the Parents fostering event is scheduled for Saturday, May 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Brandy Springs Park in Mercer County.