JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — May is National Foster Care Month and also the Month of the Military Child.
In Onslow County, the number of children in foster care is one of the highest in our state.
Sharon and Tim Shirey became therapeutic foster parents nearly five years ago.
“I’ve always wanted to be a foster parent,” said Sharon Shirey. “My husband, I sprung this on him. He was at work, and I was like ‘Hey, remember us talking about foster care?”
They’ve fostered four children since then.
In Onslow County, the foster care system is overloaded.
Nearly 300 kids are in foster care, which makes it one of the highest counties in the state.
Officials with the Department of Social Services say the number of children needing foster care has far outgrown the number of families willing to provide it.
Some children come from traumatizing backgrounds with abuse and neglect, and others have developed behavioral problems.
“A lot of people think that these kids are here because of their behaviors when it’s usually stemming from neglect or abuse and their parents just inability to take care of them,” said Patricia McClarin at Rapid Resource for Families.
Ashley Coakley, who recruits foster families for Onslow County, said most people don’t know how desperate the need is.
“We serve all the way from the tip of Richlands to the tip of Beaufort,” said Coakley. “That’s a two-hour span and for us to have 20 homes, it is not a lot when only each parent can have up to two children in the house. That’s 40 kids max.”
The number of children in foster care in North Carolina has skyrocketed 25 percent in the last five years.
Right now, almost 11,000 children are in the state’s foster care system.
The average length of stay in foster care is 1-1/2 years, a 15% increase since 2010.
More than 500 children age out of foster care each year.
Officials are urging folks with an interest to sign up to be parents but caution fostering isn’t without its challenges.
“Fostering is not bad kids,” said Deb Bushek, a foster parent. “It’s kids in a bad situation. And to be able to make those family reunions again, you can’t fit broken puzzle pieces together. You’ve got to fix the pieces first and then you can put them back together.”
To become a foster parent you must be at least 21 years old. You don’t have to be married or own your own home.
You’ll have to pass multiple background checks and take classes to receive your license.
If you have any interest in learning more about being a foster parent, check out these links with more information: