Bring back our children — that is the focus of an ongoing project by the Leadership Ottawa County Class of 2012. The group is working to bring awareness to the need for more foster care families in Ottawa County.
Right now, there are about 25 children placed in foster care but only four licensed foster families in the county. That means local kids are being sent even farther from home.
“We looked at like it was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said class member Conrad Marsili.
Marsili, who owns Kidsville News, had run stories in his publication about the need after hearing from Judge Kathleen Giesler of the Probate and Juvenile Court. Another class member, Shelley Asmus of Habitat for Humanity, learned about the issue during the Take Back the Night event when the Habitat booth was placed next to a booth for Adriel, a foster care licensing agency. And so a series of chance encounters has led to a movement for change.
“It’s turned into this wonderful relationship where they’re really helping us get the word out,” said Jessica Smith, licensing specialist with Adriel.
The class has teamed up with the agency and the Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services and is speaking to various groups around the county to explain the need for more local families.
“If we could maintain children in their school and their community it really is in their best interest,” said Smith.
Ideally, the county would have at least two families per school district and thanks to the project, at least one more helping home is in the works.
Joan Washburn, a member of the LOC class, is in the process of becoming licensed to provide respite care. Though not a full-time foster care provider, Washburn will be eligible to take in a child on an emergency basis or fill in if a foster family needs to go out of town or just needs a break.
“Conrad brought up the fact that there were so few people qualified that kids were being sent to other counties,” Washburn said. “It just really called to my heart. I didn’t seem to be able to forget it.”
Washburn followed up with Adriel and began the licensing process, which includes six full days of classes, home inspections and extensive interviews.
“Classes were great,” she said. “It was a total learning experience from CPR to how to handle a belligerent child.”
Foster families have total control over the kids that come into their homes from age range to physical and developmental disabilities.
“They are extremely flexible,” Washburn said. “They want it to work for the child’s sake.”
According to Smith, Adriel works hard to make the children are placed into the right families.
“We want to find the right fit. We really want kids to excel,” she said.
In addition to keeping the kids local and placing them in appropriate families, Adriel also tries to make the kids comfortable by handing out personal comfort totes — another piece of the puzzle the LOC class is looking to help out with.
Each child receives a tote upon entering the foster program. The bag is their possession — sometimes their only possession — and is filled with hygiene products, a pillow and comforter and comfort items such as stuffed animals and puzzle books.
“I have had multiple kids that I have brought the black bags to where they have looked through them and made comments, ‘You mean I get to keep this?’,” said Sharon Fortkamp of Adriel. “We have so many kids come to us with only the clothes on their backs, so the black bags give them something to have of their own.”
The class set a goal of 60 totes and other groups around the county are jumping in to help. Local Girl Scouts collected items at their recent Thinking Day event and Ottawa County Senior Centers are challenging each other to see which group can collect the most.
“I got word yesterday their goal is to collect 50 themselves,” said class member Connie Fabian of the National Bank of Ohio.
“The communities have amazed me with their generosity for kids,” said Smith. “I never imagined what could be possible.”
Personal comfort totes
The class is collecting items for personal comfort totes which are handed out to children entering foster care. The age-specific bags should contain the following:
• Infants — one pack of diapers, hooded towel, baby wash/shampoo, baby lotion, baby powder, travel pack of wipes, diaper ointment, small cuddly toy and any other age-appropriate items
• Toddlers and young children — one pack of diapers or Pull Ups, one towel and washcloth, kids shampoo, kids toothbrush and toothpaste, brush and/or comb, small cuddly toy and other age-appropriate items
• Preteens/teens — towel and washcloth, shampoo and conditioner, bar of soap or body soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, brush and or comb and any other age-appropriate items
For questions and information
• For information about the class project, to invite a speaker to your organization’s next meeting or to arrange pickup of comfort tote donations, contact Shelley Asmus at 419-734-7074 or Connie Fabian at 419-898-8522. The Port Clinton Fire Station is serving as a drop off for donations.
• Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services: 419-898-3688
Leadership Ottawa County is an annual community leadership development program. For information on the organization or an application to join the next class, visit www.leadershipottawacounty.com