UPDATE: This story was updated Monday morning to reflect more accurate statistics from the 2-1-1 team. Of the 205 callers who indicated they wanted info on foster care, only 68 intentionally pressed the phone button signifying that they were interested in learning more about foster care.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Helpline responders have fielded 68 foster care inquiries just two months after the United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline rolled out a foster care screening program to address Westchester County’s difficulty matching all foster children with homes.
Local families have always been more reluctant to take in siblings, young adults, teens with kids, babies, and children with special needs, according to Pat Anderson, the Outreach and Emergency Management Director for the 2-1-1 helpline at the United Way of Westchester and Putnam.
“You may have 250 families willing to do foster care, but if they’re not skilled in the areas that you need, then those kids don’t have homes,” Anderson said of the foster care needs not being met. “We need to grow the base of our families with diverse skills and have different families that feel comfortable taking in teens with kids or taking in kids with special needs.”
Currently there are about 200 families caring for 236 foster children, according to a press release from the county executive’s office. However, many families only want to care for one kid. Since the 2-1-1 debuted its foster care program May 1, 35 local families have discovered they’re eligible to care for foster kids and signed up for a related orientation and training program at Family Ties of Westchester.
“We filter the callers to see if they would be a good fit. We have 20 questions for them,” said Anderson. “Do they have a room with a window? They can’t decide they’ll sleep in the living room and put the kid in the bedroom with a window. They can’t have a pitbull. They have to be able to exist on their own, financially. It’s a stipend that the county gives them, not a job.”
The 2-1-1 call center, which regularly staffs 13 lines with 10 operators, also debuted its “Go Before You Show” prenatal care initiative this May. A recent state study declared Westchester residents weren't accessing prenatal care and local women gave birth to babies that weighed an average of five pounds. Now women -- pregnant women or women wondering if they’re pregnant -- can call 2-1-1 and find a local clinic that takes their insurance or has options for women who are not insured.
The 2-1-1 line was created in 2005 to assist Hudson Valley residents with everything from recycling regulations to avoiding home foreclosures. On an average day, responders reportedly aid 350 callers, however, that number jumps up to about 750 info requests during the tax season.
Has anyone you know ever called 2-1-1? Did the responder provide you with helpful options? What sorts of initiatives or programs do you think are still needed in Westcehster? What would you like to see the county or non-profits like United Way address further?