“I expect us to exceed the mid 30s by the end of the year,” said Stacy Cox, social services administrator for the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.
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Much of the increase is due to the drug epidemic, Cox said, as more than 90 percent of Champaign County children in foster care were removed from their home because of parental substance abuse.
“Youth are staying in agency custody longer due to the amount of time that it takes for parents to recover from issues related to drug addiction,” she said.
Champaign County currently has 21 licensed foster homes, Cox said, but not all of them are accepting placements right now. Only about three of the 23 children currently in foster care have been placed within Champaign County.
“We have children in our custody that are placed in Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo, Mansfield,” she said.
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Cox wants more families in the area to consider becoming foster parents because it benefits the children if they’re able to stay in their community. Children who are placed out of their community have to change schools, join new sports teams and move away from extended family.
“By placing them further and further away, it just kind of compounds that trauma that they’ve already experienced,” she said.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can reach out to the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services. Cox said she can connect people with agencies where they can become licensed foster parents. The agency can be reached at 937-484-1500.
Rebecca Puckett, a Shelby County resident, has been a foster parent for 27 years. She currently fosters a child from Champaign County.
Over the years, she’s fostered children that have come from big cities and had to adjust to living in the country. But she said it’s possible.
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“Kids are resilient,” Puckett said. “They really are. More so than us.”
She was convinced she wanted to be a foster parent decades ago but it took some convincing for her husband.
“He really didn’t want to at first,” she said. “We had two biological children and my husband had two sons before I married him.”
But eventually Joe Puckett agreed, she said, and the family hasn’t looked back. The Puckett family has fostered 55 children and adopted seven.
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“It was the most rewarding thing that we’ve ever done,” she said.
Puckett’s husband died two years ago, but she said he once told her the kids had done much more for him than he’d ever done for them.
“It’s very hard,” she said about being a foster parent. “And it really takes a lot of you to do it.”
But it’s all worth it, she said.
“We knew,” she said. “This was our calling in life.”
By the numbers:
16 — number of children in foster care in Champaign County in 2015
28 — number of children in foster care in Champaign County so far in 2017
93 — percent of children in foster care in the county removed because of a parent’s substance abuse
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark and Champaign counties in the past five years, including stories about local people in recovery and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.