RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The number of available foster care homes in Richland and Lexington counties isn't keeping up with the increasing number of children entering the system daily.
According to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the two counties are in need of 270 more foster care homes to care for the more than 600 children currently being cared for. There are currently around 200 regular foster homes within the two counties in addition to more intensive foster homes.
Children often enter foster care when they can no longer live safely at home and there is no other relative to take care of them. Foster families can provide a safe and nurturing environment for these children.
However, experts say it's important to keep children close to where they've been living to ease the adjustment into foster care life.
"We want them to be able to maintain their same church, school and friends to provide a sense of normalcy," Dawn Barton, director of permanency management for the Department of Social Services, said. "Obviously being removed from their family home is very traumatic so it certainly helps."
However, when not enough homes are available in the child's home county, the department is forced to look elsewhere to place them.
"We start looking at bordering counties, but the reality is we sometimes have to place children all around the state," Barton said. "That makes it really difficult for them to do sibling visits, or parent visits in an easy way."
Denise Engelbrecht is a foster parent who took in a newborn baby last year. The child was taken from its biological mother due to an abusive home environment.
Engelbrecht said she suffered through an abusive home life as a child and felt empowered taking in a foster child.
"I just remember screaming and yelling at the abuser to stop hurting my siblings and they wouldn't listen," Engelbrecht said. "I felt so powerless as a child but doing this for other children now makes me feel so fulfilled."
Engelbrecht has seven biological children of her own, four of which are adults.
"I was used to sleeping through the night and all of a sudden, I was getting up to do these nighttime feedings and diapers and it was really an adjustment," Engelbrecht said.
She said being able to nurture the little boy, who is almost one, has been one of the most rewarding experiences she's ever had.
"Whatever they're lacking from where they came from we want to fill in that gap," Engelbrecht said. "While we have them, for the short time we have them, we want to pour that into them and make a difference in their lives."
The process of becoming a foster parent takes between four and five months, according to the Department of Social Services.
"Just as quick as we get people licensed, we tell them to be prepared to get a call that day or the next day," Barton said. "That's how critical the need is."
Those interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent can visit www.heartfeltcalling.org.