COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The holidays are a special time to spend with family, but for the thousands of kids in foster care across South Carolina, the holidays can be a difficult time.
One organization is stepping up to make sure the holidays are special for every foster child here in the Midlands. On Saturday, dozens of foster families came to the Midlands Foundation for Foster Children drive-thru Christmas party, complete with gifts, a Christmas meal, and a visit from Santa.
It’s the 23rd year they have hosted the event.
Volunteers said it’s one way to make sure every foster child feels cared for during the holidays.
“It’s just something we didn’t want to let them go without this year,” Midlands Foundation for Foster Children President Pat Sullivan said. “Especially with all this COVID stuff going on, we want them to feel like they’re still special and we are thinking about them.”
Angel, an 18-year-old who stays at Epworth Children’s Home and is part of the Independent Living Program, said that with COVID-19, it’s been difficult at times.
“Actually being away from your family, and not being able to go to your family due to the pandemic, it’s been hard,” Angel said. “I’m not use to not seeing my family, but I have to wait until the pandemic is over so that’s hard.”
Despite this, she said foster care has been a very positive experience for her, saying that she’s thankful for all of the people at Epworth.
“I’m really thankful for them,” Angel said. “They always kept me on track when I was down. They were always there when I needed someone to talk to and I’m really thankful for them, they’re my family.”
Lucille Coleman, a case manager with the Epworth Independent Living Program, said it helps give foster kids ages eighteen to twenty-three the tools to transition into adulthood successfully.
“You know, they’re in foster care and a lot of times they’re not with their families, and it is a hard time,” Coleman said.
The South Carolina Department of Social Services reports that more than 4,000 are in foster care right now, and more than 500 of those are in Richland County.
“These types of events that we have today really help because can you imagine being away from your family during the holidays?” SCDSS Director of Communications Connelly Anne Wragley said.
Wragley said that at the beginning of the pandemic DSS saw a drop by over 50% in the number of calls to their hotline due to students not being in school, but said it’s since leveled off and DSS and the foster care services continue to be essential.
Wragley also said they are always looking for new foster families, saying their greatest needs right now are finding more foster families willing to take in siblings and older teens.
Wragley said DSS has a new 24-hour hotline that is 1-888-CARE4US.