Daniel Island resident Cathy Leeke has long been an advocate for children in need of foster families. She and her husband, Jonathon, have served as foster parents for more than five years. In fact, they are caring for two foster children now, in addition to their three biological children.
In the state of South Carolina, some 1,675 foster families are currently needed, including 195 in Charleston and Berkeley counties, according Care2Foster.org.
So when Leeke heard about the Palmetto200 race, a unique relay event for which participants run a 200-mile stretch from Columbia to Charleston, she knew it would offer an impactful way to raise awareness and funds for the cause. She decided to form Team Fostering Hope last fall, inviting several others, including South Carolina’s Department of Social Services Director Mike Leach, to take on the challenge alongside her.
“The hope for Team Fostering Hope was that we would raise awareness of the need for 200 families in the Charleston area,” said Leeke. “So 200 miles for 200 families. The idea was that our team would run the miles and that families would start the process.”
But the recent coronavirus outbreak presented some insurmountable obstacles – and the race, originally slated for the last weekend in March, had to be postponed. A new date is pending in late April.
“I’m not confident that the race will happen,” she said. “We’re kind of bummed. People have been training for a long time. We were really looking forward to having our inaugural year as Team Fostering Hope, but other things need to be taken care of.”
Even though the event has been postponed, Leeke still plans to go the distance when it comes to spreading the word about fostering. Because the need, she explained, is not going away. In fact, it’s becoming even more important in light of childcare and school closures due to the virus.
“We have more children who are being displaced as a result of the coronavirus,” said Leeke, whose family fosters through Lifeline Children’s Services, a Christian nonprofit organization that specializes in adoption, foster care and orphan care. “Because foster families, even the ones that we have, are having a more difficult time saying ‘yes.’”
“The need is really critical,” she continued. “When we don’t have enough foster families, it’s really a bog on the entire system. These kids bounce from home to home, meaning they come into care, there is not a family who can accept them, but a family is able to keep them for a night or two, but then that’s it.”
And that creates its own set of problems.
“It’s like a house guest,” she added. “They’re not joining a family. There is an empty bed they can stay in, they get fed, they have a place to sleep, they are safe – but they don’t feel safe, because two days later they move to another place.”
So how can you help?
“I would say there are definitely some who will read this and have considered foster care before, and for those families … I would ask that they attend an orientation session,” said Leeke, who also serves as Lifeline’s S.C. state director. “That is by far the number one need.”
Those who may not want to commit fully to fostering can also help by becoming what is called a “respite” family – offering short term breaks for parents like the Leekes.
“This is a marathon for us and not a sprint,” said Leeke. “And we have a community of people that continue to help us.”
Others can assist with transportation needs, babysitting, or offering other childcare necessities.
“The best thing that the community can do is reach out directly to a family and say what do you need?” added Leeke. “Do you need paper plates? Do you need a date night? Do you need clothes? Do you need a backpack or a bike?”
Lifeline is just one of many organizations that help place children with foster families. Leeke suggests exploring their website at lifelinechild.org
to learn more. In addition, a Lifeline fostering orientation session will be held at Daniel Island’s Church of the Holy Cross on