MARENGO — Concerns and problems were put on the back burner for an evening of fun in mid-December when more than 30 foster children enjoyed a special Christmas celebration with their foster families at Heartland Conference Retreat Center in Marengo.
Children’s Services Administrator Lisa Peake said there are currently 37 foster children in agency custody and there have been as many as 40 Morrow County children in custody this year. This is double the number of children the county has had in foster homes just a couple years ago.
Morrow County Commissioner Tom Whiston said the county budget has also been forced to deal with this increase in foster children. The county has paid nearly $600,000 in support in 2017 from the county general fund in addition to the $100,000 that has been paid by the state.
Morrow County has experienced much of the same growth in numbers of children in custody and foster care as the rest of Ohio in the past three to five years. Much of this is due to the state’s opioid crisis.
In Ohio numbers climbed from 12,654 children in agency custody on July 1, 2013 to 15,500 this October. That number does not account for the many children who are placed with grandparents or other relatives.
Peake thanked the Heartland staff for their time and generosity in providing and preparing a delicious dinner for families and children as well as providing entertainment, games and delivering presents for children.
Children’s Placement Coordinator, Anthony Marozzi also praised Heartland Center for showing love and encouragement in hosting this foster family Christmas party.
“The Heartland staff does a magnificent job hosting this event,” said Marozzi.
Marozzi added that Morrow County is committed to making sure that children in care have a wonderful experience during the Christmas season.
Morrow County JFS Director Sundie Brown spoke with emotion to the foster families after the dinner hour. She thanked parents for opening their homes “to create a loving and safe environment for the care of Morrow County children.”
Foster parent Mary Tromm told about her experience as a foster parent. It is the 15th year that she and her family have accepted foster children in their home. They have cared for 50 foster children over those years. At the present time they have two toddlers in their care.
Tromm introduced Santa (aka Dale Baker) and his wife Pat. He arrived in full dress with at the dinner hour and visited with children at each table. He made an instant connection with the children from the smallest toddler to the oldest teenager.
Dale recounted his own story as a person who was in foster homes with his siblings as a child. His wife said he as a soft spot in his heart for these foster children. He’s been playing the part of Santa for 14 years at the JFS foster family Christmas parties.