Statistics are worth thousands of words

There are over 500,000 children in foster care across the country and over 50,000 in New Jersey, according to Maureen Archibald, executive director of the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, a faith-based foster care agency in New Jersey.

Archibald said her agency began in 1996 when an overwhelming number of infants who were medically cleared by hospitals did not have homes available for them. The Rev. Dr. DeForest “Buster” Soaries and the Division ofYouth& Family Services (DYFS) created Harvest of Hope to recruit, train and retain foster parents who can also potentially be adoptive parents for those children who need permanency plans or who cannot be returned to their biological parents. She said some of the children were abandoned, victims of drugs or had parents deemed unfit to provide proper care.

“We have so many kids who are waiting for homes. It’s really sad…when kids are in a shelter and are not placed in a home,” she said. “Every child needs a family and they do better in a family environment.”

Archibald said any interested parents must fill out an application, attend an information and orientation session, go through 27 hours of training per the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), have a home study completed by a social worker, and interviews of family members. There is also a background check, a criminal record check, and history of abuse check. She said Harvest of Hope, which has an office in Somerset, helps to expedite the process of helping families become licensed and structured.

Archibald also said the needs of each child vary from day to day, but now older children or sibling groups need to be targeted because most parents ask for newborns.

Another neglected group is young adults, who are not supported by the system once they turn 18.

“If they do not find a ‘forever home’ or are not adopted, they lose all of their benefits and are left to fend for themselves,” foster parent Lilliam Costa, of North Brunswick, said.

Therefore, the Reformed Church of Highland Park will celebrate its grand opening of a transitional housing complex that will service women for up to four years until they can go out into the world on their own. Along with the Middlesex Interfaith Partners with the Homeless, based inNew Brunswick, the transitional housing will teach social skills, how to go on a job interview, and how to volunteer at a thrift shop or mission.

“Housing costs especially put a strain on those who have other specials needs.We decided to build housing for youth aging out of foster care, a decision that was prompted by a number of factors … [including being] diligent in a congregational effort to care for those youth who didn’t find ‘forever families’ and are now 18 and are facing the world without support,” said the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale.

Irayna Court will celebrate its grand opening on Sunday, Feb. 24, and Monday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. The permanent housing with supportive services for women aging out of the state foster care system is a shared project of the Reformed Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corporation and the Making It Possible to End Homelessness organization.

For more information call (732) 729- 7770 or (732) 249-7349.

There were over 9,900 children in New Jersey placed out of their homes by DYFS as of June 2007, according to the N.J. Department of Children and Families. Across the state, 47 percent of children fromDYFS were placed with a resource family. Twentyfour percent of those children are up to 2 years old, 15 percent are 3 to 5 years old, 16 percent are 5 to 9 years old, 12 percent are 10 to 12 years old, 16 percent are 13 to 15 years old, 14 percent are 16 and 17 years old and 3 percent are over age 18.

For information about Harvest of Hope, call (732) 247-1270 or (888) 325-HOPE.