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Shelby County needs more people who qualify and are willing to foster children

Right now, there are more than 7,000 children in Tennessee's foster care system, but only 243 approved foster homes.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In Shelby County there is a serious need for foster parents. The Department of Children Services said the pandemic increased the number of children needing a home. 

Right now, there are more than 7,000 children in Tennessee's foster care system, but only 243 approved foster homes. On any given day, there are around 15 to 20 children who need a foster home. 

A representative said here in Shelby County, there are more than 1,000 children who are separated from their biological families and in the system. 

The department welcomes anyone who qualifies and is willing to foster, but right now there is a serious need for people to foster sibling groups of three or more who are teens, and occasionally babies who have been exposed to drugs. 

Sean Burke, who is a foster parent, explained his experience so far.

"My wife was having complications getting pregnant. We couldn't get pregnant. We decided to go into fostering to adopt, in order to adopt children," Burke said. 

Burke has been a foster parent now for 12 years. He said it is one of the most rewarding decisions he has ever made. For him, it is about the mentorship and bringing children into a safe environment, something he would like to see more of.

"The children in the world need more people to get up and help provide decent homes, provide a safe place, to provide mentorship, and be a provider. It takes a village," Burke said. 

He has adopted two children and is now in the process of adopting his third child, who he is fostering. 

He and his wife have had the kids since they were all just babies. Burke stated that kids have opened his mind to a lot.

"They said, 'Dad, why are we marching when blacks get killed by cops, but we're not marching when blacks kill each other every day?' And I think that's something that we need to reflect on in our community and speak a lot with Black Lives Matter," Burke explained. "We need to march when Blacks kill Blacks every day. Don't just march when someone of a different race kills us."

For those who are considering fostering children, the process requires you to go through a pre-screening where you will participate in an informational meeting, fill out an application, do an interview and a background check, and take a five-week training course.

"This program helps you to learn about the system. The type of children you're going to be fostering and some of the behaviors you may see and as a result of the trauma that they have experienced," Department of Children Services Representative Jackie Sandidge said. 

However, Sandidge stated that sending children to foster homes is always the last option.

"Our first goal is to always find a relative or kin to take the children. We try to reduce trauma by placing them with somebody who they know," Sandidge said. "If it's a teacher, church member, neighbor... 'Hey, who are you close to? Who can we call?' So we try to reach out to all of them before we put them in a foster home.'"

Sandidge also said the number one reason for children being separated from their biological families is due to drug usage. 

For more information on the process, click here.

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