Children and young adults who survive abuse and neglect continue to face tremendous challenges even after escaping unsafe homes. Foster care homes can provide a critical refuge for support and healing. However, a scarcity of foster parents in Western North Carolina makes it challenging – and for young adults, sometimes impossible – to secure safe, supportive and stable housing. “The number of children entering care far outweighs the number of families getting licensed,” says Alex Williams, President and Founder of Fostering Hopes.
In Buncombe and Henderson Counties, there are approximately 500 children and 150 teens and young adults in the foster care system. Of that number, close to 40% must leave their home county for placement due to the lack of resources, including the availability of affordable housing.
“Across the state, the overwhelming majority of county Department of Social Services (DSS) offices must send over 35% of children out of the county for placement,” says Alex, “Many rural WNC counties have very few licensed foster homes, so large numbers of those children are sent to other parts of the state for care.”
Many children bounce from home to home or rely on hotels, sibling groups are often separated, and many young adults are aging out of the system before receiving the care they need. For these young adults in particular, this lack of support significantly increases their risk of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and suicide.
These issues emphasize the importance of an “it takes a village” approach, as survivors rely heavily on their community for support, guidance and assistance. Foster parents, social workers, residential care facilities, volunteers and organizations like Fostering Hopes and the H3 Collective (H3C) work in tandem and around the clock to provide services and resources to vulnerable children and young adults. In 2021, Fostering Hopes and H3 Collective merged to combine resources and maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their programs.
The core mission of H3C is reflected in “H3,” which represents Homes, Hope and Healing for youth in need. Working in Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania and Madison counties, H3C and Fostering Hopes have acquired 19 acres of land to build homes for future house parents and sibling groups.
Through the collaboration of community partners and donors and with funding from Dogwood, phase one of H3C’s development plan is underway, and construction is complete for the first home, a beautiful five bedroom, three bath home for five Buncombe County youth and their house parents. In Henderson County, H3C has acquired two homes on eight acres of land that will be renovated to house two young adults each, with room to construct additional homes in the future.
In Transylvania County, they have partnered with Biltmore Church to purchase an existing home located on their Brevard campus, which the church is offering at 50% below its market value. Fostering Hopes and H3C look forward to building a new home on this property to serve children in the county as they continue to develop their relationships with Biltmore Church and Transylvania County DSS.
With house parents receiving specialized and committed support from Fostering Hopes and H3C, including no-cost housing, childcare, transportation assistance, meals and home maintenance, they are equipped to nurture a hopeful and loving home environment without undue financial burdens. Much of the labor support comes from community members such as church groups, donors, volunteers, and local businesses.
“We want to create a table that everyone can find a seat at. Even if you can’t house a child, there are ways that you can make a difference in a child’s life. Something as simple as mowing the lawn gives time back to foster parents that they can spend with their children,” says Alex.
Meanwhile, Fostering Hopes focuses on educating the local community about the realities of foster care, developing foster care programs to support families and children, and sustaining those programs through the support, guidance and input of dedicated staff members. Through relationships and partnerships with local county DSS agencies, Fostering Hopes acts as a conduit between community-based support programs and the children and families in the community who need those services.
The work of Fostering Hopes and H3C specifically targets those who are at higher risk of relocation, including larger sibling groups, teenagers and young people aging out of the system. To them, it is essential to allow kids to remain in their home community where they may maintain supportive connections, stay connected with siblings, attend school or find work, and receive continued guidance as they enter adulthood.