ST. LOUIS — In our four-part series, 5 On Your Side is highlighting the flaws in Missouri's foster care system.
We've learned Missouri's Children's Division is one of the worst performers in the nation with short staffing, low pay and overburdened workers. Now, we're showing ways people are trying to bring some ease.
In Arnold, Missouri, there's a boutique boosting lives.
Foster Together is a walk-in shopping experience for foster children to purchase free of charge.
Inside, there's a wide range of new and like-new clothing, shoes, car seats, toys, toiletries and books.
The nonprofit began in a basement in 2018.
"God just laid this on my heart. There is a huge need for resources. We started with a group of friends of our church, we were looking as a way to serve in the community," executive director Laura Storm said.
The church supported them with financial assistance and it kicked off serving 15 kids.
Now, Storm shared, it's serving 85 kids a month.
"Last year only, we saw a 50% growth in the kids we are able to serve," she pointed out.
In its first year at the Arnold location, Storm is noticing there's a huge need in Jefferson County with more than half of the families coming within the county's limits.
Yet, the services go well beyond Jefferson County. Last year, the organization served 77 zip codes.
"We have a delivery team that will deliver from north St. Louis City down as far as south in Jefferson County," Storm said.
Tyler Mazdra is on the organization's board and has been a foster parent for five years.
He joined the cause after seeing the work first hand.
"There's a lot of those things that take some of the burden off that we deal on a regular basis and help the kids experience life as a child rather than survival mode all the time," he added.
Storm has learned the one-stop shop can be a connector.
She told 5 On Your Side about 50% of foster parents quit in the first year because they don't have the support.
"Foster Together is here. The community is here. They need someone to listen. Each foster parent needs someone that will do that for them and this store has opened the possibilities for those relationships and connections," Storm said.
Those connections don't stop there.
Divine Nest is a 501c3 non-profit organization based in Pike, Lincoln and St. Charles counties dedicated to foster, relative and adoptive families.
The organization recruits, equips and supports families for foster care and adoption.
Tim Hite is the associate director of Divine Nest.
"There aren't a lot of other agencies out here. This county is growing with more families all the time," he said.
At NorthRoad Community Church in Moscow Mills, the organization has been able to use their indoor facilities.
It's a hub to host events and invite support groups.
Inside, there's a play area for children to let loose and for parents to connect with others.
Hite is a former caseworker for the Children's Division and a foster parent too. He feels like more resources were needed to support families.
That's why they are honing in providing more training on various topics including trauma. Divine Nest also provides a first night bag with essential items to families.
The organization also helps recruit families and provides informational meetings for potential foster parents to learn more.
"To give that hope to families to know that it's worth it. It's challenging, but these kids need somebody," Hite added.
Since 1991, Nurses for Newborns has been providing support to parents, including foster parents, with in-home nursing visits which promote healthcare, education and positive parenting skills.
All of the services are free and services are provided as needed for up to two years after birth.
The organization has a home visit program.
Registered nurses serve families through:
- Health assessments of the infant and mother
- Extensive screening for issues including maternal depression, infant developmental delays, and risk for child abuse/neglect
- Education on infant care, safe sleep, formula preparation and CPR
- Resources and referrals for needed services
Also in the region, the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has been assisting families for decades.
Since 1986, it has served more than 132,000 children.
The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery provides free care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in its 16 locations (five nurseries and 11 family empowerment centers) across the region.
Children from birth through age 12 are welcomed to come for a short-term stay if families face an emergency caused by illness, homelessness, domestic violence or overwhelming parental stress.
Foster parents can use this essential program.
The agency's goal is to provide prevention.
While there, children receive a medical exam, nutritious meals, trauma-informed care and take-home necessities.
Parents can also access crisis counseling, in-home visits, and parent education groups at one of the family empowerment centers.
Crisis Nursery facts:
- 99% of Crisis Nursery kids are not abused or neglected (do not have a verified Child Abuse Hotline report)
- 99% stay with their families and out of the foster care system
- Potentially over $27 billion saved – CDC estimates a lifetime cost of $210,012 per child victim of abuse – Crisis Nursery has kept 132,000 kids safe – 132,000 X $210,012 = $27.7 billion
If you are facing a family crisis, please call the Crisis Nursery 24-hour helpline at 314-768-3201.
Another important agency is FamilyForward.
FamilyForward helps children by offering comprehensive therapeutic and educational services to support biological, foster and adoptive families.
The organization offers individual, family and group counseling provided in-home and in-office.
There are numerous class and trainings each month, including educational opportunities for adoptive and foster parents:
- Each session counts as training toward your licensure requirement. Sessions are provided at low or no cost to all adoptive and foster parents.
- Registration is required. View the calendar and browse scheduled sessions.
- It also shares a quarterly mailed and emailed newsletter that anyone can sign up to receive. That information can be found here.
Just recently, the agency has built a $6.5 million campus and it's the largest center for developmental trauma therapy services in the region.
In September, the Developmental Trauma Center opened along with the Early Childhood Center with a therapeutic preschool.
The private agency Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition is another resourceful organization founded in 1989.
It serves both sides of the river, covering 14 counties.
The organization said beyond connecting foster parents with children, the coalition has also created a holistic network of support programs.
It offers a therapy clinic, support groups for parents and older youths and parent workshops.
The Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (B.A.C.A.) also works to empower abused children, some who may be in foster care. The organization has a chapter in the Metro East and St. Louis.
An organizer told 5 On Your Side their goal is to provide a safe environment for kids.
B.A.C.A. members provide escorts for children if they feel scared in their neighborhoods, support the child at court and parole hearings, attend their interviews and stay with the child if they are alone and frightened.
The Magic House is a good option for kids to have fun and it provides free admission to foster families.
The Magic House offers hands-on learning experiences for children of all ages sparking imagination and creativity.
A spokesperson said a family needs to show proof when they arrive.
In the last part of the foster care series, which airs March 1, 5 On Your Side will focus on the solutions coming to help foster parents, case workers and the children.
If you have an organization that could be helpful to our list, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.