According to the most recent data, a child is removed from their home and placed into foster care every two minutes.
As of 2021, over 400,000 children in the United States are in the foster care system. While that number has dropped over the past several years, the reality of those numbers is much more concerning.
Narrowing the focus to just North Carolina, there are more than 12,000 children in foster care in need of homes, 700 of whom live in Cumberland County.
Cumberland County accounts for about 30% of all child placements in North Carolina, by far the highest percentage in the state.
The urgent question of what to do with these children, who are widely considered to be the most vulnerable demographic in the country, is one that demands immediate attention.
To bring awareness to an issue rarely spoken about in polite conversation, the Cumberland County Community Collaborative is hosting its inaugural Cumberland County Foster Care Fall Fest on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Living Water Assembly of God from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The festival is intended to bring some fun and support to local foster families and foster kids and potentially recruit those interested in starting the foster-care process.
Up & Coming Weekly spoke with Kyle Coleman, Regional Supervisor of Youth Villages, about the event and the rising emergency within the Cumberland County foster care system.
“We recognize that there’s a pandemic in foster care right now,” Coleman said candidly. “We have about 700 kids waiting for beds and maybe 50 available. We want to offer these kids a sense of stability and a loving home; we don’t want them bouncing from place to place.”
The Cumberland County Community Collaborative has set a goal to reduce the number of times children are moved from home to home while in the system, which is a major issue within the foster-care community. On average, children are moved between two to three times a year, dramatically decreasing their stability and long-term potential for success.
“Every time a child is moved, it’s considered a traumatic event,” Coleman explained. “Each traumatic event increases the likelihood of that child committing a violent crime, getting sentenced to jail, or abusing drugs.”
According to the Juvenile Law Center, 90% of juveniles with five or more foster placements will enter the justice system. Presently, “the problem is so severe that one-quarter of foster care alumni will become involved with the criminal justice system within two years of leaving care.”
It is precisely due to these statistics that Coleman and others involved in the Cumberland County Community Collaborative feel the time for action is long past due.
“If you want to solve the prison issue — solve the foster care issue,” a frustrated Coleman advised. “Foster kids are 60% more likely to have mental health issues and 70% more likely to commit a violent crime. Several of these kids just need a chance. The right foster care placement can mean the difference between prison, military, or college.”
The festival aims to connect foster care families with resources in the area that may benefit them and the children in their care. Information will also be available for potential foster parents, community members who wish to get involved, and birth parents who have been or will be reunited with their children. Most importantly, this festival is about community.
“We’re hoping to get all the foster care agencies to attend this event,” said Coleman. “We want foster parents to be aware of their resources and offer support to biological parents who are getting their kids back. We hope this event will help to connect such an isolated population to other people in the community.”
Only a few short days from Halloween, festival-goers are encouraged to show up in costume as they enjoy a day filled with music, dancing, face painting, cornhole, and other fun activities. A chili cook-off is scheduled at noon, and children can load up their buckets and sacks with goodies from the Trunk or Treat from 2 to 4 p.m.
While fun is an added benefit of the festivities, more than anything, Coleman hopes this festival will ignite a spark in people who maybe want to foster but are afraid to take the leap.
When asked about the misconceptions that surround fostering, Coleman had this to say:
“[People] are afraid that they’re not good enough. They worry they don’t have enough money or they don’t have their lives together enough to foster and make a difference. But that’s just not true. Some of these kids have been through such egregious experiences if they just have someone walk with them around the park on a Saturday afternoon — it can be enough.”
Currently, in Cumberland County, the demographic in the largest need of foster care placement are African American youth and children between the ages of 9 and 13. Both groups speak to other widespread issues within the foster care system — the disproportionality of African American children taken from their homes and the high interest in fostering or adopting younger children and babies.
“No one thinks about fostering until infertility," Coleman said. “Babies only make up about 2-3% of children in foster care, and once a child hits 13, their chances of becoming adopted go down to around 30%, and they remain in the system until they age out and potentially go to prison.”
By nature, foster care is a temporary solution, with reunification being the ultimate goal. However, that’s just not the case for many of the youth in the foster care system. And, while the system is broken and fostering can be incredibly hard, Coleman insists there’s still an opportunity to turn things around.
“This is fixable,” he said. “We can physically do something about this. When you foster, you’re investing in the future of every life you touch. It’s extremely hard — you get some really tough kids who’ve been through a lot, but seeing that positive change in one life can change your life too.”
While the Cumberland County Foster Fall Festival is a step in the right direction, Coleman hopes to see more community involvement and support for the incredible work that goes into serving this population of children.
“There are all kinds of agencies and systems at work within foster care and social work every day, but there are no parades for mental health workers or social workers. We’re trying to make the world a better place and doing it silently.”
The Foster Care Fall Fest is free to attend and open to the public.
Living Water Assembly of God is at 2040 N. Bragg Blvd., Spring Lake.
If interested in supporting the event, either by donating or volunteering, contact Coleman at 910-202-4974.
To learn more about the Cumberland County Community Collaborative, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/cumberlandcollaborative/.