Local Judge Encourages Families To Foster Children - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

11/05/03 - Gregg County

Local Judge Encourages Families To Foster Children

We've told you before about the growing number of Texas children in foster care, which now stands at 15 thousand. Along with the growing number, comes the problem of where to place all those children. During the month of November in our Gift of Love reports, we're going to look at the problem in East Texas, particularly, in Gregg County and what one judge is doing to help solve the problem.

District Judge Robin Sage has seen thousands of cases in her Gregg County court involving children, removed from their homes and placed in foster care. "It has absolutely reached a crisis point," says Judge Sage. In her 20 years as the family court judge, she has never seen it so bad. "We're dealing now with babies born addicted to drugs that we didn't deal with 20 years ago . We're dealing with children who have been in such horribly abusive situations that it was inconceivable to us years ago," explains Judge Sage.

Last year in Gregg County, an average of 200 children were in foster care at any given time, but there were only 5 foster homes in which to place them through the state's Child Protective Services. Judge Sage says, "As a judge, I started seeing more and more cases where children were placed outside of Gregg County far, far away." Placing them far away adds to their trauma by removing them from everything familiar. It also stretches caseworkers and foster parents working to reunite some of the children with their biological families. "Those children need to visit with their parents at least once a week and so you're talking about a trip from Houston once a week and that's pretty serious stuff to ask a foster parent to undertake."

Judge Sage was hoping over time, the state would step up and help with this growing problem. Not only did that not happen, but funds were cut. "Things such as counseling, foster care payments to the foster parents, and vital services that those children needed and they're not going to come from the state. I felt it was at the point that we had to get the community to step in and help these children," says Judge Sage.

So, Judge Sage created the "Fostering Partners Project." She began by forming a group of community leaders to spread the word. Included in the group, is Linda Cunningham with Child Protective Services. She says, "The children we work with have been abused, abandoned and neglected and they deserve, and need, foster families in their own community to love and care for them. There are families out there, we just need to get in touch with them and let them know there is a child waiting for them." Judge Sage goes on the say, "My goal is that any child who has to be removed from their home and live in foster care in Gregg County that they do without nothing. That they have what every normal child needs food, clothing, education, medical care and that that all be provided here within our community."

Judge Sage wrote, and received, a grant from the Supreme Court Task Force on Foster Care to hire Brett Holmes to help coordinate this effort. "On the point of public awareness, I found that there is an extreme ignorance among the public as was I not more than 8 weeks ago when I first started working with Judge Sage." Judge Sage says, "I believe everybody in this community can help in some way."

Her next step? She's asking at least one member of every Gregg County church to foster a child, while the rest of it's members offer support. "In that circle of support should be people who can just help baby sit, people who can cook supper one evening a week, people who can act as foster grandparents and people who can take the children to the doctor for working foster parents," says Judge Sage.

Just outside Judge Sage's office is a reminder of the great need. On the wall is a bulletin board full of Gregg County children without a permanent home. Judge Sage sums it up by saying, "There are challenges in being a foster parent just like there are challenges in being a biological parent, but the rewards of knowing you have helped a child and have truly changed a life for the better far out weights any challenges and I think anybody can offer that kind of help and we would certainly encouragement them to do so."

Judge sage says since word started to spread about this Fostering Partners Project in just the past few weeks, 17 families in Gregg County have already inquired, and 9 of them are going through training right now.

If you'd like more information on the Fostering Partners Project in Gregg County call our Gift of Love hotline at 1-888-kids-275.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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