The demand for foster families in the U.S. is on the rise, and the state of Tennessee is no exception. Unfortunately, there are many instances when children are unable to stay in their own homes. This can be due to child abuse, neglect, disciplinary problems, or a host of other reasons. When a child is removed from their original home, great efforts are made to place the child in the home of a family member or a known and trusted adult. When this isn’t possible, children are placed into state custody. Here are some things to know about foster care TN.
While the ultimate goal is to reunite these children safely with their biological families, there is usually some work that needs to be done. In the meantime, foster parents are called upon to provide homes and support for these children in all aspects.
Not only their basic needs (such as food and shelter) must be met, but also their emotional, physical, and social needs. These children need to remain in a family setting, preferably close to the communities in which they normally live. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services strives to keep siblings together whenever possible.
Foster Care TN Statistics
According to TN Alliance for Kids:
● There are currently over 415,000 children in foster care nationwide, with less than half of these children being placed with a relative.
● Almost 8,000 of those children are in foster care in Tennessee, BUT there are less than 4,000 foster families in the state willing to provide homes for them
● Less than half of the children currently in the state’s custody are with relatives. A majority of them are in group homes or foster families.
● Tennessee has seen a massive increase in the number of children entering the system. This increase has been attributed to the opioid epidemic that has swept the state. Tennessee currently has the second-highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the nation, and that has unfortunately led to widespread addiction not only among patients but among street drug users as well.
● Since 2010, there has been a 51 percent increase in the number of parents who have had their rights terminated and a 56 percent increase in children waiting to be adopted.
● While many people are looking to adopt babies, older children can have a difficult time finding forever homes. Children over the age of 8 who are available for adoption only have a 20 percent chance of being adopted.
● On average, 64 young people age out of the foster care system every day. They often have no support system once they turn 18.
● 20 percent of all children who age out of the foster care system become homeless,
● 75 percent experience mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, less than 3 percent go on to earn a degree, and a staggering two-thirds of the females who age out of the system will become pregnant by the age of 21.
The demand for homes is high, but as detailed in the article, “Lack of Foster Parents Creating a National Crisis,” the homes aren’t always available. In May 2017, The Tennessean newspaper reported that due to the inability to find placements, some children were made to sleep in state offices on couches or in a room at a local church until the officials were able to find a more suitable place for them to go.
Foster Care TN- Support & Training
While many of the statistics are disheartening, there is hope. If you have the room in your heart and your home, being a foster parent is within your reach. Whether you are hoping to adopt through foster care, looking to provide love and support to children in their time of need, or if you find yourself taking in the child of a relative—there is training and support available to you.
In Tennessee, there are approved private adoption agencies that partner with the Department of Children’s Services to provide training and support for families/individuals interested in fostering. There is even specialized training for those who are willing to open their homes to individuals with special needs and medical issues.
While money should never be the motivation to become a foster parent, adding more people to your home will certainly raise your daily expenses. The state understands this, and financial support is available to those who choose to care for these children—even if the children are related to you. All foster parents seeking this type of support, related or not, must meet the criteria to have their home approved.
If you’d like to talk to others who have an interest in this subject, check out the foster care and adoption forum on Adoption.com. You can ask questions, find support, and connect with others about a variety of related subjects.
Foster Care TN- What Are The Requirements to Become a Foster Parent?
According to the TN Department of Children’s Services, the following eligibility requirements must be met to become a foster parent:
● You must be able to give without expecting any immediate returns. While financial compensation is helpful, and while there are many rewarding aspects associated with fostering, the children’s needs are the most important factor in the situation. Patience is a key aspect of the process.
● You must have the room not only in your home but in your daily life. A child needs their own bed, and they also need attention and commitment.
● You must learn certain skills to manage behavior, and you must be comfortable implementing them. These skills have been proven, and you will learn them in training.
● You must have a heart for children with problems. These kids are often coming from difficult situations. They have been separated from their families, which can be quite stressful and emotional. The children may or may not have medical and/or behavioral issues as well.
● You must be able to support the idea of reuniting children with their biological families. This can be tough, as people tend to become attached to the children they care for, but the ultimate goal in most situations is returning safely to their homes and families.
● You can be single or married, with or without children of your own.
● You must be at least 21.
● You must be able to pass a background check (which includes fingerprinting).
● You must attend an informational meeting and complete the Parents As Tender Healers, or PATH, training program.
● You must pass a completed home study, have documentation of sufficient income, and have a complete health examination.
● If you are interested, you can fill out the inquiry form through the TN Department of Children’s Services here. On their site, they state that a staff member will contact you to answer any questions you may have before your inquiry is processed. Once your application has been processed, a staff member will assist you in signing up for a foster care information meeting.
● If you have any questions about beginning this process, the TN Department of Children’s Services provided this number to call (toll-free) 1-877-DCS-KIDS.
● Feel free to peruse this link as well: Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent
Foster Care TN- If I Can’t Become a Foster Parent, Can I Still Help?
Of course, you can! Perhaps you have the room in your heart to help, but not in your home. Perhaps your time is limited. Perhaps you would like to learn a bit more about the process or further your education in the field. The Department of Children’s Services is always seeking volunteers who would like to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
As a volunteer, you must also be able to pass a background check. You will need to be certified and trained. There are many ways a volunteer can assist families and social workers.
When children are removed from their homes, it can be a scary and confusing time. Volunteers are needed to play with the children and keep them company when they are taken into custody. There may be a bit of time that passes while the children are awaiting their next destination. A friendly face and a calm demeanor can go a long way in helping to pass the time.
Volunteers are also needed to aid caseworkers with various office duties such as filing, making copies, and performing other such tasks. You may be asked to sit in on meetings between the families and the caseworkers. In this instance, you can become an advocate, and you also provide a safer environment with your presence. Your support of families (foster and biological) during and after the case can be meaningful not only to them but to you as well. Interns are also welcome, and there are many opportunities available.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can find more information here.
Foster Care TN- Can I Adopt Through the Foster Care System?
While the goal of foster care in Tennessee is to reunite children with their biological families, there are some cases where this is not possible. When the original home remains unsuitable, relatives and adults who already have a close relationship with the child are typically given the option of caring for the children. If the situation prevents that from occurring, children in foster care may become available for adoption.
If you have already gone through the process of becoming a foster parent in Tennessee and have been approved, then you are automatically approved to adopt as well. This gives you the first option to adopt children you have been fostering, as well as other children who have become available for adoption.
● You can find more information on TN adoption at this link: Adoption in Tennessee
● For more information on adopting from foster care specifically, please see the Adopting From Foster Care Guide
● You can also see a state-by-state listing of children who are awaiting their forever homes here.
Foster Care to Adoption Success Stories
With the high number of children aging out of the foster care system, many young men and women feel that they will never find a family or a home where they belong. It is a basic human need to be loved and to be cared for. If you can provide a family for someone—to be there through the ups and downs, to listen and to laugh, and to build everlasting memories with someone who may have never felt like they mattered to anyone—just imagine how rewarding that must be. We all want someone to call when we have news to share. We all need someone to support us in our endeavors and encourage us to set and achieve goals. We need someone to remind us that we are worthy and that our potential is limitless. You can be that person. You can give someone a sense of family.
There are many inspirational stories about families formed out of the foster care system. You can read an article titled, “How One Man Made A Boys Dream For Family A Reality,” it reminds us that “family is forever”. What a reassuring reminder. It’s always a best-case scenario when siblings can be adopted into the same family. In an uplifting true-life story about a Colorado family adopting a sibling group, the Higgins family felt called to adopt four siblings who were the same ages as the biological children they were already parenting. As a family of 10, they have more than enough love to go around.
If you believe you are being called to help children in foster care, there is more than ample opportunity for you to do so. Whether you pursue a career in the social work field, volunteer in your free time, donate to local charities, or even open your home to those in need—you are guaranteed to make a difference.
How do you feel about the foster care system in Tennessee? Do you have personal experience that has shaped your opinion? What recommendations or advice do you have to share? I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.