For more information on how to become a foster parent, contact Youth Villages at 423-954-8843.
Family tumult and financial stresses during and after the holiday season force more children into state custody each year, and officials with Youth Villages in Chattanooga say there aren't enough families stepping up to be foster parents.
In the summer, the nonprofit's training class included 12 to 15 interested families, but there has been minimal interest in an upcoming training class on Jan. 7, said Kristin Stucker, a foster parent recruiter with Youth Villages. Right now, only three people are signed up, she said.
"During the holidays, [we] slow down because people are so busy," she said. "We are trying to get that awareness back up."
Hamilton County has 400 children in the foster care system, and there are 7,500 in need of foster care or adoption statewide, Stucker said. Typically the children have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment with their families and seek a stable, secure home life, officials said.
"We need homes for teenage children and large sibling groups," said Stucker. "We need someone that can take them in and show them that they, too, are children."
Families who go through training and the approval process for a foster child receive a monthly stipend to offset costs and, if they want to keep the children permanently, they get the first right to adopt and the adoption is free. Foster parents can be single or married but they must be more than 25 years old and living in Hamilton County.
Christina and Michael McCoy had been together for seven years with no children when they signed up to become foster parents in 2009, not long after they got married.
"We have always wanted kids in our life, and it just hadn't happened naturally," said Christina, 31.
Ethan was 12 when he came to their home. They didn't talk about what the boy had gone through, and she wanted him to feel at home and find comfort in the family's consistency at first.
Eventually, she hoped she could get him back with original family, but it didn't work out. His father passed away, and his mother lost the rights to him and his brothers.
Then, she said, she realized she couldn't part with him. They adopted Ethan in March 2010 and his little brother Levi, 2, in February 2011. Now, she said, it feels as if the children have always been there with them.
"You have to be open-minded," she said. "You have to be patient. They will bring a new perspective on things. If you have the space and the love and you have that desire to share your home ... this is a fantastic way to do it."