A foster care alternative

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next, the growing foster care crisis.

May is National Foster Care Month. It’s been recognized and celebrated every year since 1988—but with mixed results. The opioid crisis is one of many factors driving more children into the foster care system.

EICHER: Last summer, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine made a public plea for more families to step up and become foster parents in his state.

For every registered foster family in Ohio, there are more than two children in the state child welfare system. 15,000 kids. 7,000 families.

REICHARD: But what if you could keep children out of the system? What if an overburdened parent could voluntarily and temporarily place a child in a safe family during a crisis?

WORLD Radio’s Maria Baer brings us the story of one Ohio family trying to do just that.

MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Phil Krause is flinging children again. The game goes like this: wrap a child in a blanket. Swing the child back and forth a few times. Then fling the child onto a nearby couch. You can hear the results.

AUDIO: Background play, giggles

First he flings Decker. He’s two. Then Jaliyah. She’s five.

AUDIO: With the long winter you had to get creative…

Then there’s Josiah. He’s 4 months old—and way too young to be tossed around. He has a frizzy mop of hair and the roundest cheeks you’ve ever seen. He sits on Erin Krause’s lap, not really minding while Decker playfully bops him on the head with an elephant rattle. Josiah is staying with the Krauses temporarily—at his mother’s request.

AUDIO: And his mom was getting ready to deliver him and he had a medical issue that she had already known about since his 20-week ultrasound. And he was going to need surgery right away, right when he was born, and she didn’t have any support or help for Aliana, her other child.

Josiah’s mom couldn’t care for this very sick baby and work to provide for her six other children. She couldn’t put Josiah in daycare because he’d be exposed to too many germs. She was overwhelmed, so she contacted a program called Safe Families for help.

AUDIO: If you think about a parent calling into Safe Families, they’re asking a stranger to take care of their kids. We feel what they’re communicating more than anything else is they feel socially isolated. They don’t have community at least that they trust to take care of their kids in this time of crisis.

Safe Families is not foster care. Families never lose custody of their children. They voluntarily place their children in the care of others while they weather a crisis. In Josiah’s case, it was medical issues.

AUDIO: Medicine, appointments, um surgeries, he just had open-heart surgery two weeks ago. You would never know it.

The program is national, but Phil Krause brought it to Columbus just last summer. The Krauses didn’t mean to become a host family, but Erin is a nurse. When they saw Josiah’s medical needs, they decided to do it.

They had to have a home assessment and background checks just as if they were becoming foster parents. And Josiah’s mom had to go through an interview process to make sure the need was real.

Since she voluntarily put her child in the Krause’s care, Josiah’s mom still gets to see her son. She even brings him home on nights when she’s not working. That’s good for Josiah and his mom. It’s also good for the Krause children.

AUDIO: And it’s cool because our kids, like Phil said, they know what’s ahead of us. They know that Josiah won’t always be in our home, like, every single day. But they still call him their brother.  

The program has helped draw Josiah’s mom into a larger community. She comes to Bible study and sometimes the Krause family’s church. Recently more than a dozen church members helped her move.

AUDIO: When he had his second open-heart surgery, people sent her meal cards in the hospital, and you know, encouragement cards…

Families like the Krauses don’t get paid for being a host family. And the cost in time and emotional energy can be great. Though fellow church members have signed on to help out, the Krauses still shoulder most of the burden. They realize that level of sacrifice may deter other interested families.

AUDIO: I think there’s hesitancy as a family to become host parents because the unknown in regards to how that will affect and impact your kids. Because it takes away from—you know, you’re going to have to share everything from their toys to their parents’ time, right? And there’s definitely a cost to that.

For Phil and Erin, that cost includes saying no to social gatherings and saying yes to a surprisingly early family bedtime.

AUDIO: For example we’re in bed by like 8:30 every night. Because we’re so tired. I don’t know why three kids has made us so tired.

Still, they say the price is worth paying. Not just because it’s called for by Jesus, but because they’ve seen the sacrifices bless their own children as well.

AUDIO: But what I think our kids have experienced is life-giving, and transforming in a lot of ways. Because they now have to share more of their time and their resources and their parents, there’s a level of selflessness that they learn. They learn that our home and our family is a home and a family that welcomes people that have less than.

Josiah’s mom will probably take him home by the end of May.  That will give the Krauses a little time to prepare for the birth of the baby Erin is expecting in July.  In the meantime, they’ll keep playing, praying, and taking life one day at a time.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Maria Baer, reporting from Columbus, Ohio.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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