This Community Foster Care Center Expands to the Poconos

When children and young adults enter the foster care system, some feel like they have lost control of their lives. For others, self-esteem may plummet. For many, it can be a combination of the two.

But there’s a group working to give foster children back their agency, build confidence and support foster families across the region by providing new clothes, toys and other necessities – and it’s growing.

“It gives them a bit of control to be able to come in and choose things that make them feel good and give them self-esteem,” said Liz Johnson, who led the campaign to expand the only care center Lehigh Valley Hospitality Communities. to the Poconos. “They don’t just give you this bag of second-hand clothes or something. They choose a name brand [clothes] and things they find stylish and cool. So I think that really speaks to them about feeling self-esteem and self-confidence, and helping them with that healing process.

Johnson, who has three biological children and three adopted children, this summer with her church, Christian Life Assembly, opened The Kindness Project: Kindness Cottage in Stroudsburg, where she is the Pocono region manager.

The Benevolence Project, based in Emmaüs, serves 21 departments, providing free clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items and other necessities, to help reduce costs for adoptive parents. The recently opened sister store in the Poconos, at 2209 W. Main St. in Stroudsburg, has the same mission and method, working to fill the gaps in the resources adoptive parents need to support the children they care for. charge.

The total number of children placed in the state foster care system over the past five years has decreased, according to the State of Child Welfare 2021 report by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. In 2020, over 21,600 children were served, an 11% decrease from 2016, when over 24,500 were served. Monroe County mirrors this decline, where the number of children served fell from 354 children in 2016 to 279 in 2020, a 21% drop.

However, the number of foster children in Lehigh County has increased from 355 children served in 2016 to 446 in 2020, an increase of about 26%, according to the report. Similarly, Northampton County saw an increase from 434 children served in 2016 to 445 in 2020, a difference of approximately 3%.

There aren’t enough foster homes to meet the need, said Paula Griffin, director of children and youth services for Lehigh County.

“And we really tried to spread the word, just to give some of our kids a shot,” Griffin said. “They have complex needs, but they are like all other children. They just deserve to have a family and to be well taken care of while they are going through such a traumatic time in their lives.

The lack of available housing has left many foster children in Philadelphia sleeping in Department of Social Services offices. An August report from the Philadelphia Inquirer showed that more than 300 children have spent at least one night there in the last year.

The situation in the Valley is not as dire as in Philadelphia, Griffin said. There are no foster children sleeping in the Lehigh County offices, she said.

Northampton County Child, Youth and Family Administrator Maria Torres said the county has enough foster homes to meet needs.

“Unfortunately, not all licensed foster homes in the county are equipped to meet the specialized needs of the children we serve, primarily children in need of placement who have multi-system issues that make these children difficult to place. “, she said. “The county can benefit from more therapeutic foster homes, foster homes willing to accept young teens, and foster homes able to accept children with autism or [an intellectual or developmental disability].”

Lisa Weingartner, senior vice president of independent living, emergency and permanency services at Valley Youth House, said the agency has overseen independent living programs for youth ages 16 to 21, as well as a program called Teenagers Achieving Independence.

“That’s all you learned about nut soup, ages 14 to 24,” she said. “So banking, budgeting, cooking, grocery shopping, how to get a job, how to keep a job, education planning, car insurance, apartment rental, credit, security on the Internet, all these things that people learn.”

The need is clear at the community foster care centre. In August last year, the agency registered 23 children, said Jenae Holtzhafer, founder and executive director of The Kindness Project. In August 2022, they registered 65 new children.

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“We absolutely don’t have enough foster families,” she said. “And it’s really a crisis right now to the point that anyone involved in the child welfare system is begging at every opportunity for people to consider getting involved in some way.”

Volunteers at the Stroudsburg Chalet have “done a terrific job” setting up the resource and creating space for foster children, she said.

“They blew my mind with the transformation they brought to this little cabin,” Holtzhafer said. “It’s so warm and inviting. They have a sunbeam on the wall where you walk in, and every kid who walks in can put their thumbprint on it in yellow, so we can collectively light up that sun.

“And they kind of feel like they belong, because a lot of kids who go through foster care have this innate sense of not belonging.”

The resource also supports adoptive parents, Johnson said.

“It just helps take a lot of the weight off their shoulders,” she said. “That they’re not running to Walmart in the middle of the night or trying to pick up these goods as they try to focus on caring for the kids and meeting those emotional needs.”

Morning Call reporter Molly Bilinski can be reached at [email protected].

Jill E. Washington