Foster care isn’t traditionally a priority in the Jewish community — and there often isn’t a major need for it — but child abuse and neglect does exist, making the lack of it a potential concern, according to Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options (JAFCO).
Jews aren’t immune from mental health and substance abuse issues, resulting in parental breakdowns, noted Sarah Franco, executive director of the Sunrise, Fla.-based JAFCO, which expanded into Philadelphia four years ago and also works with developmentally disabled individuals.
That’s why JAFCO launched a program called One Shul, One Child that it hopes will serve as a safety net.
The foster care recruitment initiative is in the initial stages of asking local synagogues to identify a family to become licensed foster parents — with the rest of that synagogue’s community supporting that family through the process and placement.
“Even if we had five families in the greater Philadelphia area, that would cover things,” Franco said.
Franco said the agency works, on average, with 20 Jewish children a year who need placement. She noted that the problem is more pronounced in Florida because there are more extended nuclear families in Philadelphia that can assist when a family member is in trouble. The agency has worked with about 500 children throughout its 25-year history.
The training process for foster parents can be time consuming — lasting up to four months — and involves background, criminal, financial and reference checks, Franco said.
She noted that without a network of licensed private placement families, Jewish children may land in government-based foster care and wind up with non-Jewish families, possibly resulting in the loss of their heritage.
“We’re open to kids in state care, but will also serve kids privately,” she said.
Aside from JAFCO, Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) has provided foster care services for decades.
“We would have to say that Jewish Family and Children’s Service remains strong in the foster care arena,” JFCS President and CEO Paula Goldstein said. “With a 160-plus-year history, we work to take care of Jewish and non-Jewish children in need of safe homes and permanent solutions.”
JFCS programs include foster care, which provides certified foster homes for children from birth to 21. And through the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN), JFCS works to find permanent homes for children who can’t safely return to their family of origin. It also offers counseling, respite services, parenting classes, conflict resolution services and assessment and referral services.
JFCS partners aside from SWAN include the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, other county children and youth agencies and community umbrella agencies
There are between 13,000 and 15,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association. In New Jersey, there were about 8,000 children in foster care in 2015, according to the New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council. And there were about 700 Delaware children in foster care in 2013, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
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