CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Seventy-four Centre County children are currently in the foster care system. The county-led Children and Youth Services department works to place these children in the best fitting homes, ideally in their original communities; however, they say there’s not enough certified homes right now to accommodate all needs.
Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Philipsburg, and Penns Valley either have zero or only a handful of homes available.
“We have kids that are currently placed out of county because we didn’t have a home that was available or appropriate for them, and then we have children who are currently in residential care or congregate care settings in the hopes that they’re going to transition down into a foster care program whenever possible,” said Leah Raker, assistant director for Centre County Children & Youth Services.
Centre County CYS licenses foster homes, allowing them to personally know both the foster families and children before they match them. Their goal is to keep children in their original communities.
“When they have to come into our care and custody, wanting to try and keep them in their home environment, in their local school district, in their community, surrounded by their same supports, that’s the ideal situation because that’s going to help them adjust to the trauma of leaving their home in a way that feels more natural to them,” said Raker.
Right now, more than half of the children are over age seven and can choose to stay in the agency’s care and custody until they’re 21.
CYS needs families who are willing to house older children, siblings, and who understand the emotional toll foster care can have on the children’s mental health.
“I think asking a family to become a foster parent has to be a huge, huge task that we’re asking because we’re automatically asking you to take this child into your home, to love them as your own child, knowing that that child’s goal is always to return home,” said Raker.
In some cases, a child can become eligible for adoption, but most of the time the goal is for the child to quickly and safely return to their home.
“Being able to have them right here in their own communities is going to make that happen a lot sooner,” said Raker.
Raker said the experience is rewarding and they have training and support available for all foster families. The first step to becoming a foster is to give CYS a call at 814-355-6755.