A support group in Kiowa County is working to help foster families care for Kansas kids.

KC Lingafelter, Julie Keeton, Tammy Wolfely and Lisa Brown along with 15 others have formed a support group and plan to start two more foster closets in Kiowa County, to augment those already started in January this year. With eight new approved foster families in the area, this group, which met February 18, hopes to meet anticipated needs for children and families.
According to Janis Friesen with St Francis Ministries who cares for children in the western half of the state,  there are more than 7,000 children in foster care in Kansas. Saint Francis Ministries cares for about half of them (3,754 as of March 4, 2019) and the rest are cared for by KVC in Kansas City.
The massive amounts of kids in the system just accentuated the problem last year, when Madeline Fox with KCUR reported in January 2018 that the trend of overnight stays for St Francis saw its first child have to sleep overnight in an office in February 2017.”
Kansas is setting records for the number of children in foster care right now, and that is the reason there is such a need to have as many families as possible ready to offer their home for foster care.
”Out of 22 children in out-of-home care from Pratt County,  11 children had to be placed outside the county because there was no foster home available in Pratt County,” Friesen said. “Saint Francis Ministries has only four licensed foster families in Pratt County and we would love to have at least six more foster homes in the county to meet the need.”
One of the goals of this support group is to stop kids from having to sleep in the offices and the only way to do that is to make sure there is enough foster homes ready to go in the state, when the need arises. Just because there might not be a kid in Kiowa County who needs foster care right now doesn’t mean foster homes aren’t needed. Agencies place kids out of their county all the time, to find them a home because they don’t have any other choice.
By having the foster closets stocked with needed items and a local support group in the county  they will be helping new families who are interested in making difference by becoming foster parents. The foster care agencies will know Kiowa County is a place where they can call the foster families and know they will be cared for and not have to sleep in an office somewhere. With these kids already being pulled out of their home. It is important for them to feel wanted and loved.
“We want to make it easy as possible for anyone who is interested in Fostering, to do so,” said Lingafelter. “Some children come into care in an immediate need situation where homes may not have the supplies on hand.”  
These items are typically things such as the right size diapers, formula, clothes or even a car seat. The foster closet groups wants to keep a supply of the most essential needed items on hand to be able to assist as needed.
“We hope this will assist foster parents in emergency situations that might be delivered a child in the middle of the night with nothing,”  Lingafelter said.
Because the two newest closest don’t have the advantage of benefiting from the grant, the ladies have started a internet campaign to supply it themselves.
“St Francis has told us year after year, the generosity of Kiowa County at Christmas time stands out,” Keeton said.
That is why she has approached her friends on Facebook and challenges those who give to the Angel Tree each year to make donations towards the newest closet now. The ladies are asking for either good quality used items people have at home, or purchasing new items to donate, from diapers to gift cards, and cribs to clothes as well as formula. If a child needs it, the closet can use it. Some things are a one-time only purchase (which will be loaned out and returned to the closet when the family is able to replace them) and some things really need to be new because they will go to the child for keeps.
Those interested in helping can drop off any donations at the pharmacy in Greensburg, and a team of community members will get them to their needed location. All closet items will be managed by volunteers at the churches housing the closets.
Right now, along with the closet at the Haviland Friends Church, The First Baptist in Greensburg has open a space for a closet in their church and the group is waiting on confirmation on the location of the Mullinville closet.
The support group plans to meet on the third Monday of every month at the First Baptist Church in Greensburg at 7:30 p.m. Those who are already involved in fostering are welcome to attend and those who might be interested in fostering or supporting foster parents are invited to attend as well.
“I hope that if there is anyone out there that has considered doing foster care, that they will see this as a community that will support them and help them,” Wolfely said. “I hope that they will be brave and take the first step to becoming foster parents. I want the families providing care now for foster children to be able to benefit from the closets and the parent support group meetings.
“I also hope that I can find and help more in the community to open licensed in-home daycares. In order for working families to take foster children, they will need space in licensed daycares for the children. The few we have in the county are either full or not accepting anymore children. Getting a few more licensed home daycare facilities is important to not only our community, but to the foster community.  As a local childcare provider myself, I also want to add, If you have an interest in caring for children, please contact me and I will do all that I can to help you get licensed.”
The group is working right now to develop many things that will make fostering easier on local families, and to help educate us all on the foster care system and how we can each play an active role while removing many of the barriers people face to becoming foster parents.
“We need everyone's help to remove those barriers,” Keeton said. “The state needs more people to step in as foster parents, if you're interested in fostering, we're interested in supporting you! We can help you get you to the right people to get started, we have foster closets opening up, donations coming in, volunteers for meals, and it just keeps growing.”
Meals are something that people can provide for a foster family the first day or two, by scheduling through foster closet group members.
“Many people don’t realize how many meetings and appointments, not to mention the book of paperwork you have to do as a foster family in the first day or two,” Lingafelter said. “It is almost more hectic than bringing home your own baby from the hospital and that is where someone who might not be able to foster can help a foster family.”
A foster care supply closet has been established in Haviland. It is almost fully stocked and is available for foster parents when they get a placement who comes to them without the necessary items (hygiene, baby supplies, clothing, etc), which happens a good deal of the time.
“What is coming out of this, is we are going to be a group that will have the resources and support to help families who want to be involved in foster care,” Lingafelter said. “No foster parent has to walk this path alone. We are here to help.”