POSTED: Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 6:29pm
UPDATED: Friday, May 24, 2013 - 11:58am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — It takes a special person to be a foster parent, to welcome a child into your home. But children in Baton Rouge and across the state need more of those special people.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month, but state officials say they constantly need families to step up and volunteer.
"We have about 4,002 children currently, as of the end of April, in foster care," said Secretary Suzy Sonnier of the Department of Children and Family Services, "and we have just over 1,900 parents."
Janice Womack is one of those parents. She has taken in a handful kids over the last few years. Having raised four children, she struggled to adapt to the fact that she could not parent the foster children as she saw fit. Instead, she had to obey the orders of social workers.
"The people coming in and out, telling me, 'well, you can't do this, you can't spank the kid, you can't do this, you gotta do this, you gotta do that,'" she recalled.
DCFS says there are no special skills required to become a foster parent, just a clean background check and a loving heart. But it is always searching for parents who can take care of special needs children, groups of siblings, and emergency placements.
"And it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of love; a lot of giving. So it is kind of difficult," Womack acknowledged. "But it's worth it in the end."
Womack realized that after spending time with her first long-term foster child, a boy she took care of for more than a year.
"This child had probably never been to a church, never been to a restaurant," she said, "and I introduced him to the world."
She watched him overcome years of neglect.
"And we was able to work through a lot of those problems," she stated, "and that just gave me, I guess, the encouragement to go on and have other children."
Womack, a two-time winner of the region's Foster Parent of the Year award, said not everyone is cut out to volunteer.
"If you are a person that likes your own time, if you are a person that likes to be free, likes to go out, likes to wine and dine, then foster parenting is not for you," she said.
But for those children who get placed into caring homes, the parental attention changes their lives.
"You can almost see an instant change, once they get used to having those things," said Jocelyn Womack, Janice's daughter. "They're happier, they're healthier. Even their grades begin to change. Their attitudes towards life begins to change. And you can see their future being molded into something greater."
DCFS tries to reunite foster children with their biological families, whether with their parents or another relative. Roughly 20 percent of foster children will be adopted.
Janice Womack has two foster children in her home right now. After more than a year of being part of her family, the state allowed her to file paperwork to adopt both of them.