COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There is a renewed push for regular foster homes for 1,640 children in South Carolina, following the discovery of 11-month-old Harlee Lewis' body in Chesterfield County. Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks urged more foster parents to help solve a shortage.
"We've got to do better in protecting our children," said Brooks days after the baby girl was found near her home, in a diaper box. "The need is there. This child needed help. I'm not saying it was anyone's fault, she just moved around so much I don't think she ever stayed put long enough for the flags to fly up."
According to Brooks, the Department of Social Services (DSS) never had the chance to be involved in the Lewis' situation. He says the teen mother, Breanna Lewis, had recently moved to South Carolina from Anson County, North Carolina.
But there are thousands of other children waiting for temporary families and a temporary home. Foster parents are sharing their successes, to encourage more people to foster.
"I'm Lolly and this is Pop," Melodie Griffin gestured to herself and her husband, Dan. "We love being Lolly and Pop. We're not Mom and Dad to these kids."
The Griffins have fostered 10 children in five years. They plan to keep at it and wish others would do the same.
"You know, foster care is more than just the kids that are in the system. There's a whole family that's in crisis. That whole family needs help, and anyway that we can be a part of that equation, we welcome that," Dan Griffin explains.
The Griffins foster children who need therapy; they tell stories of success and say they've gained relationships despite the children leaving their home eventually. That's the fear other would-be parents express that they try to quell, that it's tough to eventually give up the foster child.
Social workers like Amber Peeples have maintained relationships with foster children. Peeples even keeps in touch with some of her foster siblings. Her parents fostered about 100 children over years, Peeples says.
But her job at DSS matching children to parents is becoming increasingly difficult, with the home shortage.
"I mean, it's like grasping at straws every day, praying that we can just find somewhere for them to sleep for the night," Peeples said, exasperatedly. "It's really heartbreaking. We call our families and call our families, and they become very…exhausted."
There are 4,546 children already in foster homes in South Carolina. Peeples says the number of children who need to be placed in a home is growing each year, but the number of homes isn't.
If you want to become foster parents or support those who are, you can dial 1-888-828-3555 or go to www.scfamilies.org.