Hope's Closet, a Butler County non-profit, is a resource for foster families.

Butler County foster families step up amid coronavirus pandemic

Butler County Children Services Director Julie Gilbert reported this week that parents haven’t shied away from taking abused and neglected kids into their homes.

“Going into COVID-19 we were really concerned about foster parents potentially not wanting to take exposed children into their homes,” she said. “So we surveyed our foster parents and we actually found the opposite. Many of them are willing to take children that could be exposed to COVID-19 but have also opened their homes to demographics of children who they normally wouldn’t accept.”

Gilbert said there are 372 children in custody with 336 in paid placement. There are 183 Butler County foster homes. She said there are also foster homes outside of the county willing to take kids.

Executive Director Bill Morrison said officials were very deliberate when they queried parents in their foster care network, asking them what their plans would be if they did accept a child who may have been compromised.

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“The term hero kind of gets overused during this,” Morrison said. “But somebody willing to do that is a hero in my book, they’re a hero every day for being willing to take children of other parents into their homes and care for them. We have an exceptional group of foster parents.”

Morrison said Hope’s Closet continues to be a key ally for recruiting foster parents. The boutique is run by foster parents who collect clothing and other items for foster kids and gather new foster families. Co-founder and foster mom Sarah Coleman told the Journal-News when they contacted foster parents about possibly taking in sick kids, most said they were more afraid of kids being left out in the cold than the coronavirus.

“We put out feelers to all the foster parents and asked them, ‘Are you afraid of this and what’s going on?’” Coleman said. “Most of them have been just overwhelmingly afraid the kids wouldn’t have a place to go. They’re scared that kids would be in even more harms way, and they wanted to just basically go above and beyond.”

Adoptions have also continued. Gilbert said between March and June there will be 19 “forever families” created, the same number as a year ago, “so we’re right on course with that, and I think that’s good news.”

The coronavirus pandemic hit Butler County in mid-March when four positive cases were confirmed on March 13. As of Wednesday there were 15 deaths and 510 positive and five potential cases countywide. Gilbert told the Journal-News there were 27 adoptions from January through May last year and 23 this year during the same time frame.

Theresa Cooper, who coordinates adoptions for the county, said officials feared the adoptions they had in the pipeline when stay-at-home edicts were issued would have to be postponed. The court system has virtually shut down with judges continuing all but essential hearings. Cooper said Butler County Probate Magistrate Heather Cady has maintained presiding over adoptions through the pandemic and makes all manner of provisions to ensure the events can be joyful.

Cady has allowed virtual connections to the ceremonies for more people to participate.

“They’re working really closely with our families and our kids to make this day as special as possible for them,” Cooper said about Cady and the other court staff. “I don’t think the kids are missing out on anything, the video conferencing has been great… when you’re talking only ten or so people in a courtroom, that doesn’t give you a whole lot but that video conference can give you the whole world.”

This is the time of year when the agency celebrates foster kids who are graduating high school with a big party. There are six children this year, which will be different. Abby Sexton, BCCS independent living and emancipation coordinator, said they have had to postpone the party but she is working on some other things to celebrate the seniors who are also missing traditional high school graduation ceremonies.

“We will get together and celebrate as soon as we are legally allowed to do that,” Sexton said about the graduation party.

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