Justin Brownfield was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from the Indiana Department of Child Services, asking if he and his wife could take in a baby. They agreed in seconds.
About 20 minutes later, a caseworker arrived with an infant in desperate need of a bath and fresh clothes. Half asleep, Lydia Brownfield washed the infant and sterilized baby bottles.
While most parents have months to prepare for a new child, the Brownfields have learned to be ready in an instant during their three years as foster parents. The (Lafayette) Journal & Courier reports the state is trying to find more foster parents because of a growing need primary due to drug use among parents.
The number of children in Indiana in foster care rose to 13,134 in June, up from 10,550 a year earlier, according to state records. That includes children who are with relatives and those in residential facilities, DCS spokesman James Wide said.
The shortage of foster families is putting pressure on the pool of people who are licensed to foster and making it more difficult for caseworkers to find local placements. If caseworkers are unable to find a foster family to take a long-term placement, they may place a child or siblings in a temporary foster home. Children who cannot be placed locally are placed with foster families in other areas of the state.
"What we would like to do is be able to have more options, so we have a better opportunity to keep them in the same school district or keep them in the same neighborhood — maintain those essential connections that sometimes get lost if they have to go into a foster care setting," said Angela Guimond, director of the Tippecanoe County DCS office. "My best-case scenario is that we're not looking within the county, we're looking within the neighborhood."
The first goal of DCS is to reunify families, Guimond said. If DCS is unable to return children to their parents, case managers look for extended family or close friends who can take the children. Placing children with unrelated foster or adoptive parents is the last option DCS pursues.