Agencies facing a shortage of foster parents



A statue of St. Joseph with the Christ Child sits in an alcove above the entrance to St. Joseph’s Children’s Home on Frankfort Avenue. St. Joseph, which has been serving children since 1849, and Boys and Girls Haven need families who can foster children. (Recording photo by Ruby Thomas)

St. Joseph Children’s Home on Frankfort Avenue and Boys and Girls Haven on Goldsmith Lane — agencies with roots in the Catholic Church — are turning to the Catholic community for help as the state faces a shortage of foster homes and that the number of children in need increases .

There are more than 8,600 children in Kentucky’s foster care system, said Lisa Barber Atwell, assistant director of foster care and adoption at St. Joseph. Sixty-seven children were taken into state care last month alone.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities, said foster care is a life thing; to which Catholics must pay attention.

“The idea that our church strongly believes in caring for children in our community whose parents are unable to care for them is inscribed in the DNA of our local Catholic community almost as far back as you can go up,” said DeJaco Crutcher, who serves as the Archdiocese of Louisville’s representative on the boards of both organizations.

St. Joseph, she noted, was founded in 1849 by German Catholic parishioners to care for orphans. Today, some people associate the organization solely with the historic St. Joe’s Picnic For The Kids. But the agency cannot serve the children without help from the Catholic community, she said.

Barber Atwell agreed. As the number of foster children increases, St. Joseph faces a shortage of foster homes. The agency has placed 57 children in foster homes so far this year, compared to 73 in 2019, she said. The agency is particularly in need of foster parents for children eight years and older as well as children with health issues. Conditions range from type I diabetes to seizures, she said.

“We want to play the right game. It’s so important. They’ve rebounded enough already,” Atwell said.

She noted that it’s easier to find homes for young children, but she hopes people will be “open to hearing about it and making up their minds and not being stuck on a number.”

Julie Greenwell, St. Joseph’s chief operating officer, said the children they serve have experienced trauma, so foster families need to learn how to care for them. Once a family or individual decides to foster a child, they are not alone, she noted. The agency offers 24-hour training and support to foster parents.

“Anyone who feels called is welcome – single, married, we need all types of families,” Greenwell said.

Josh Swetnam, who is program director at Boys and Girls Haven, said the number of children in need of foster homes was at a “crisis point”. Swetnam said residential facilities in the state were full, pushing some children into hotel rooms.

His organization also faces a shortage of foster parents. Like St. Joseph, Boys and Girls Haven — founded by the late Father James C. Maloney in 1948 — needs homes for older children, especially teenagers.

While infants, toddlers and elementary-aged children are easier to place in homes, many teenagers are “languishing” in the system, he said. “They also need a home.”

The agency places the children in foster homes inside and outside of Jefferson County. Children have been abused and neglected and need families “who can be patient and raise them. … Patience, perseverance and time will help them feel safe and accept the love of a family,” Swetnam said.

Both agencies said they provide round-the-clock support to foster parents, including case management and therapy. St. Joseph offers a children’s development center on the school’s campus, where adoptive parents receive a 50% discount.

St. Joseph offers information sessions the first Tuesday of every month at the house, located at 2823 Frankfort Avenue, and training sessions for prospective foster parents will begin in January.

For more information on becoming a foster parent with Boys and Girls Haven, visit or call 458-1171. For more information on St. Joseph, visit or call 893-0241.

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