Amy Smith: Fostering an Understanding

There are approximately 7,000 children in Arkansas foster care within a year, but less than 1,000 foster parents available to care for those children. Plus, there are more than 500 children and teens available for adoption through Arkansas foster care. The numbers are staggering and unacceptable.

Even more heartbreaking is the fact that these children are removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or other safety concerns within the home, all situations completely out of their control. That’s where The C.A.L.L comes in.

Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime (The C.A.L.L.) is a multi-denominational Christian organization created to answer the profound and desperate need for more foster, adoptive and respite care homes for foster children living in the state. Mary Carol Pederson, executive director, spearheaded the creation of the organization in 2006, and along with a team of dedicated people, incorporated The C.A.L.L. in 2007.

Through a partnership with Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), The C.A.L.L.’s mission is to “educate, equip and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for the children in foster care.” The C.A.L.L. provides prospective foster and adoptive parents the opportunity to complete state-approved training within a church setting and within a more convenient timeframe.

One of the primary means of sharing the organization’s message is through informational meetings, in which a video is typically shown and prospective foster and adoptive parents can begin the paperwork process.

Amy Smith and her husband, Jason, first saw this video about four years ago when The C.A.L.L. visited their church. At the time, the Smith’s three biological sons, Luke, Landon and Clay were four, two and 12 months.

“The day the video played, we had no idea how drastically our lives were about to change,” said Amy. “Once we were informed of the need for foster parents in Pulaski County, there was no turning back.”

Amy—an occupational therapist for Pediatrics Plus, and Jason, an ear, nose and throat otolaryngologist for Arkansas Otolaryngology Center (AOC) in North Little Rock—completed their training to become foster parents in March 2006. “The training is the same for respite, foster and adoptive parents,” said Amy. “Respite care is short-term, just a couple of days, allowing another foster family a break.”

As trained and certified foster parents, the Smiths took in a newborn in August of that year. “Conner was born on August 6th, and we brought him home from the hospital on the 10th. At the time, we were not looking to adopt, only desiring to foster. Conner was not an easy baby, and life was not easy with four boys under four. My husband was always the one who kept us focused on our purpose. We wanted to not only touch a life for someone else, but we wanted our boys to learn this life is about helping others by sacrificing along the way.”

After Conner’s first birthday, his birth parents’ rights were terminated and the Smiths adopted him. “He was our son long before that,” said Amy. “Our boys have never been jealous or felt anything but love toward their little brother. They’re the biggest blessing God has ever given us. All four are ‘all boys’—loud, rambunctious and always hungry.”

Amy is now a board member for The C.A.L.L. Pulaski County and is quick to point out that DCFS does the best job they can, under the circumstances. “It is not the system that is broken, but our society,” she said. “DCFS is made up of amazing people, from investigators and case workers, to adoption specialists. Everyone I’ve met along the way loves these children and wants the best for them. The only failure in the system is the lack of enough foster and adoptive homes to serve these children.”

The C.A.L.L. currently has programs in 18 Arkansas counties, in addition to Pulaski. But, according to Pederson, 68-percent of children who come into foster care have to be placed outside of the county, hindering biological parent visitation and forcing the child to switch schools. To help remedy the situation, The C.A.L.L. needs more foster and adoptive parents, as well as funding. “The goal of DCFS,” said Pederson, “is to obtain 1,000 more foster parents statewide.”

Those who want to help, but are unable to foster or adopt could consider becoming a “founding family.” For $65 a month, founding families help place one child with a caring family.

For more information about fostering or adopting, volunteering or donating to The C.A.L.L., contact Mary Carol Pederson, 425-4735, or visit TheCallInArkansas.org.

 

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