Shane Olsen and his wife, Lisa, have fostered eight children over the course of the last year and a half.
Each child has entered into their home with a different story, Olsen says, but one thing has remained constant: The pair cared for all of them just like their own two biological children.
Recently, after one of Olsen’s foster children had a particularly rough day, he sat on the end of the boy’s bed and told the boy that he believed in him, that he loved the him and that he knew he could do better, he said.
With tears in his eyes, the boy told Olsen that no one has ever told him that before. “No one has ever believed in me,” Olsen recalled him saying.
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Olsen, 39, the founder and pastor at Decibel Church in Beaufort, said that fostering is not always easy, but it is meaningful.
“The most nerve-racking part of the process is the unknown — what are we getting into, what is this going to look like, what are the kids going to respond to,” he said. “But no matter where they come from, no matter what their story is, the common denominator is the kids just needed to be loved.”
As of Nov. 1, 57 Beaufort County children were enrolled in South Carolina’s foster care system.
Only 30 percent of those were placed in Beaufort County, while the remaining 70 percent were placed in other areas of the state. Comparatively, in 2013, 78 percent of Beaufort County foster children were placed in homes within the county.
The steep decline in placement within the county is due to an increasing lack of foster homes and families across the state, and in Beaufort County specifically.
More than 4,300 children are currently enrolled in South Carolina’s foster care system, according to the most recent data from the S.C. Department of Social Services. Yet, the state needs about 1,300 more beds to service all the children in the system, according to a department spokesperson.
The reason South Carolina is experiencing an increase in children in the foster care system is trifold, according to Christina Wilson, executive director of Beaufort’s Child Abuse Prevention Association.
In years prior, children who should have been brought into care might have been “screened out”; generational trauma and the cycle of child abuse are issues that are compounded exponentially every generation; and thirdly, the increase is “directly related to the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, she said.
“Opioids in particular are a tremendously difficult drug addiction to beat and we will continue to see increases in intakes until this epidemic is met head on,” Wilson said via email.
In the past five years, the number of foster youth grew by more than 1,000, while the number of beds declined by 651, according to a report released this week by the Chronicle for Social Change.
South Carolina ranked third worst in its decline of available foster beds between 2012 and 2017, only behind Washington, D.C., and Nebraska, according to the report.
Keeping everything constant
Olsen, who has fostered children and teenagers both from inside and outside Beaufort County, said he has seen a noticeable difference.
“The beautiful thing about children staying in their county of care is that the amount of visitations go up substantially,” he said.
Visitations between a child and parent are arranged about one to two times a month.
In Olsen’s experience, visitations arranged for his foster children who came from outside Beaufort County happened about once every other month. Visitations for the children who were from Beaufort County, however, consistently happened every other week, he said.
“The goal (with foster care) is reunification,” he said. “We understand our role in that and we want to play our role well ... So the best thing we can do as a foster family to help the child is to make mom and dad the best mom and dad they can be, so that the condition the child came from are not the ones they go back to.”
Children are always best served when they’re placed in their own community or “county of origin,” Wilson said.
“The most traumatic loss a child can face happens when they’re removed from their homes and they lose their primary caregiver,” Wilson said. “So you want to try and keep everything else as constant as possible, for instance a child could lose their church, friends, school and extended family.”
In order to bridge that gap and make sure children lose the least amount possible, last week CAPA launched a new Resource Family Program to help them recruit, train and support foster families.
The organization has a group home for up to 15 foster children, but Wilson says it’s not enough.
In 2016, CAPA had to turn away 104 requests for placement. Last month alone, the organization turned away another 27 requests, she said.
Wilson admits fostering “is not all sunshine and roses,” but it is worthwhile.
“It’s hard work but also some of the most rewarding,” said Wilson, who is a foster mother herself. “Seeing a family successfully reunited is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given personally.”
In April, the United Way of the Lowcountry presented Beaufort’s Child Abuse Prevention Association with a $30,000 grant. As a part of the grant, CAPA hired a foster care coordinator to direct the new program.
CAPA’s goal is to recruit at least five new foster families this year, Wilson said.
On Sunday, eight families at Olsen’s Decibel Church signed up to learn more about fostering and another 11 signed up to serve CAPA as volunteers in other ways.
Olsen, who has been working closely with CAPA, said he believes the program is going to create an easier and more relational process for people to become foster families.
“If people are wondering if they should get involved — my wife and I sat on the fence for a long time — CAPA is a place where you can start the conversation and they won’t try and sell you, they’ll bring the reality... A lot of people have questions and they have all the information to give you great answers.”
Interested in learning more about fostering?
To learn more about CAPA’s Resource Family Program visit http://capabeaufort.org/foster/
CAPA is also hosting a public forum about the new program at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Performing Arts Center Auditorium.