Evrod Cassimy of NBC Chicago opening the presentation at the Foster Parent Recruitment Picnic on May 20, 2023. | Sara Janz

Those who have ever considered being a foster parent were welcomed to attend an informational picnic last weekend to learn more about taking the next step and being a welcoming, loving family for kids in need. The event took place in Thatcher Woods in River Forest.

The Chicagoland Foster Care Recruitment Collective’s Foster Parent Recruitment picnic was an opportunity for those who have felt the nudge towards being a foster parent to receive more information on the process in a low-pressure environment. 

“Becoming a foster parent is not a decision people just wake up and decide to do, it is usually a long game,” said Nancy Silver, foster parent recruitment and support specialist at Hephzibah Children’s Association. “It can be a slow burn when you are just getting information and learning about the first steps. I think each time we build a little thing and see certain people come back and build moments and build support there.” 

“Months of planning went into this event, so it was amazing to see it take off on Saturday,” said Emma Fojtick, intake and licensing supervisor at Hephzibah Children’s Association. “I can speak for every agency involved in the collective when I say that any opportunity for the community to learn more about foster care is worthwhile. This is especially true when it gives current and/or former youth in care the platform to articulate their lived experiences in the system. This is my second collaborative recruitment event, and both times I’ve been incredibly moved and inspired by the stories of each panelist. Everyone in attendance came with open ears, curiosity, and a willingness to listen. I would have loved to see a larger turnout, but if this event leads to even one person becoming a foster parent or support to a youth in foster care, than I consider it to be a success.”

Forest preserve volunteer explaining the different park trails and recreational sites in tthe CHicagoland area during the Foster Parent Recruitment Picnic in Thatcher Woods on May 20, 2023. | Sara Janz

The free, family-friendly event included presentations on the licensing process, the criteria needed to foster in Illinois, informational tables, and agency representatives who  provided additional information. There was also a panel of former foster care youth who talked about their experiences along with the importance of having a safe and supportive foster home in their lives. 

The event was a collaborative effort among members of the  Chicagoland Foster Care Recruitment Collective, a group of social service agencies helping provide foster care and adoption services in the Chicago area including Oak Park-based Hephzibah Children’s Association, Kaleidoscope, Kids Above All, Lawrence Hall, Little City, Our Children’s Homestead, SOS Illinois, and UCAN. 

Fojtik said having all the agencies under one roof allowed for people to gather information quicker rather than having to reach out to each individually. 

“If you have ever wanted to be a foster parent you can learn about the next step and where to go from there,” Fojtik said. 

A goal of this event was to raise awareness and encourage others to look into fostering and drawing back the curtains on a need that is often not spoken about. Silver said the world of fostering, and the needs of children in the foster care system, is oftentimes misunderstood, which gives space for events like these to bring some understanding. 

Volunteer Mercedes Pickett of Earth’s Remedies holing a coloring book at the Hephizbah Foster Parent Recruitment Picnic in Thatcher woods on May 20, 2023. | Sara Janz

“You can see movies and shows and they talk about foster care but there aren’t many opportunities to engage in the foster care community,” Fojtik said, “Fostering is really a life changing experience and it shakes up your world and it is important go through that with an agency that you are connected with.” 

The need for foster parents is crucial, said Silver.  

According to the press release by Kaleidoscope with data from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as of April 30 of this year, there were 20,448 children ages zero to 21 years old in the Illinois’ child welfare system. 

“There is a huge need for additional loving people to open their homes to kids in need,” Silver said. “You can talk to any agency in the country and they will tell you the same thing, which is that we need more foster parents. Frankly speaking there aren’t enough homes for the kids who need homes.”