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AKRON, Ohio - There's a growing need for foster families in Northeast Ohio. More parents are struggling with drug addiction, which means more kids are being removed from their homes. Advocates say it's difficult to get people to sign up. One Akron family explain why they chose to open up their home to children in need.
So, why foster?
"You just have to be willing to step out of the boat and take that chance," said Ron Visounte.
"It's a million emotions because you want these mamas and daddies to raise their babies," said his wife Kelli.
The Viscountes live near Akron. They have three biological children, have fostered nine and adopted three.
"We're a family forest, we're not just one family tree," said Kelli.
She was in foster care as a child. So, it was in her heart to help.
"Really, it was not anywhere on my radar," said Ron.
However, he said because it was important to Kelli, it was important to him and so he stepped out on faith.
"It's been beautiful ever since," he smiled.
Luke, 11, is one of the children they fostered and then adopted.
"I know the feeling," he said, talking about being a kid in foster care.
"I know that they feel sad that they don't have their mom and dad right now."
He knows the difference a good foster family can make in a child’s life and said his heart is now happy because he has a family.
Sadly, he's not alone.
Abuse, neglect and addiction by mom and dad have led to 16,000 children currently in foster care in Ohio. A number that's only increasing, and outpacing, the number of available foster families.
"Not that people don't care, people just aren't aware of what our need is," said Nikaeda Griffie with Summit County Children Services.
"We have about 800 kids in care right now and about 160 foster homes, but most of our foster homes are at capacity."
The Viscountes say they cannot imagine their life and family without fostering.
"We're fortunate to be in a position where we can help and we want to be able to give back as much as we can," said Ron.
"If you cannot foster, you can help foster families," said Kelli.
She said neighbors who dropped off diapers or clothing or meals to them when they were fostering babies or children on short notice, made all the difference.
"I think the biggest thing we want foster parents to understand is that they're working with us as part of the team," said Griffie. "They're very valuable, in the sense that they're taking care of these children, which is an important job, but also helping us work towards reunification."
She said the first step if you're interested in becoming a foster parent, is to call your county child welfare office.
"Once they've completed the information meeting they can sign up for pre-service training," she explained.
You must complete 36 hours of training, pass an in-home assessment and a criminal background check to get licensed. Griffie said the process takes six to nine months, but placement is immediate.
Griffie also said there are a lot of misconceptions about being a foster parent.
"You can be married, you can be single," she said.
The Viscounte said they're not perfect and you don't have to be either; just have a love for the kids and their families.
Luke has some important advice as well.
"If you're going to be a foster family you have to get all the right things for it, but you also got to take care of them with your heart,” he said. “You can't just leave them out. You have to take care of them with your heart. It's the heart that counts."