Program in Blair to help foster care system

A new program is focused on supplementing local foster care and adoption efforts in Blair County.

Blair Hope for Families, Inc., based out of the Bellwood home of founders Doug and Connie Sloey, is a public charity just getting started with the goals of giving foster children a more complete childhood, helping those aging out of the system adapt to adulthood and providing financial support for adoptive parents.

Blair Hope, which serves only Blair County, will work with services and organizations such as Blair County Children, Youth and Family Services and Arrow Child and Family Ministries.

Getting the word out about its program is a step in establishing it.

“The more people who are willing to hear, the more likely we are to meet the need and meet the goals that we have,” Sloey said.

Doug, who with Connie adopted a child domestically about four years ago, was invited to sit on the county service’s advisory board about two years ago.

“The adoption kind of opened our eyes to what was out there, and my wife and I both agreed at that point that we weren’t done. We just didn’t know where we were headed,” Sloey said.

“I got to meet some wonderful people on the staff at Blair County who love children and want the best for the children and the families that they serve, but it also opened my eyes to more of the holes in the system that really can only be addressed outside, by the community, by people in the community. … In talking to folks at Blair County Children and Youth, Arrow and [The Bair Foundation], it seemed like this was a nice fit, a nice fix, to try to address some of these financial … needs that children have,” he said.

The charity, which was recently in the process of applying for its nonprofit status, is focusing on three areas, Sloey said.

The first is providing foster families with help so they can give children a more typical childhood, he said. A government-issued stipend given to foster families to help care for children covers the basics of lodging, food and clothing. It does not cover other non-essential expenses such as school photos, a musical instrument needed to play in the band or sport gear to play a sport.

If a host family can provide beyond the stipend, most do, but some families cannot, Sloey said.

The charity also hopes to help children who are aging out of the foster care system transition into adulthood. According to statistics, 40 percent of youth who age out of foster care end up homeless, and 60 percent of males who have aged out are convicted of a crime before age 24, he said.

Often because children aging out of the foster care system do not have the support of a family unit “they miss out on the normal preparation for independence and adulthood,” and the program wants to “better prepare them for their pending independence,” including helping them find housing, apply for a job or help with moving expenses for college, Sloey said.

The charity’s other focus will help families who want to adopt with the fees associated with the process by building a grant to offset some of the fees. The goal is to raise $50,000 a year.

With about 100 children on average in the Blair County foster system, they are asking for people and others such as churches to sponsor a child for $40 a month, Sloey said.

Blair County Children, Youth and Family Services administrator Stacie Horvath said the county department is excited about its involvement with the charity’s program.

They are “hoping it is going to be a good partnership,” she said, and they hope the program will allow the department to reach further into the community and involve more people interested in helping.

The charity will serve as a “great resource for families, for foster families,” said Stephanie Wyland, who has fostered and adopted a child and sits on the program’s board.

Because those on the board are foster or adoptive parents, they bring that experience to the partnership. Their main goal is to continue as a positive for the community, she said.

“We need good foster families. We need homes for kids and we want to take some of that financial burden off of them, to make it a little easier,” she said. “I really think if we partner with them and we help them it can only be a win-win situation.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.