Best friends and long-time foster parents Terrie Gelosa and Carol Hampton have started a non-profit organization called Kidz 2 Kidz Klozet. The organization opened Sept. 4 to provide quality clothing, books, school supplies and basic necessities to children in foster care — at no cost to the families.
“These kids are often taken from their homes in the middle of the night with just the clothes on their backs,” said Gelosa. “They are disrupted, scared, upset and taken to a strange home. How are they expected to go to school the next morning if they don’t even have shoes?”
Over the past few years, state cutbacks have hindered foster families and the children in care. Reimbursement to assist with child-rearing expenses is dwindling and fewer donations are being provided by support agencies.
According to the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents (AZAFAP), foster parents have witnessed a 20 percent drop in state aid to help support their children. The average funding for nurturing a child in foster care each month dropped from $910 to $728. Yearly, the support for necessities like diapers, clothing and education costs were cut in half. Therapies for thousands of exposed children in early intervention programs were condensed.
Various agencies across the Valley were forced to cut back on staffing. Increased workloads for Child Protective Services staff meant more anxiety on overworked case managers and less attention to children, who have found themselves lost in the shuffle. Along with these concerns, response times have increased, transportation has decreased and the necessary counseling and other treatments can take months to be put in place.
“There are not enough services available now,” said Hampton. “There were about 10,000 kids in care before the cutbacks; that number is about 13,000 now. The kids seem to be coming into care with more problems than in recent years. There are not enough people to see them.”
Frustrated and overwhelmed by the system’s inability to help, and with minimal resources available, many foster parents are not renewing their licenses. The turnover rate is at an all-time high as families are dropping out much quicker than there are prospective families signing up. Fewer families for the children means a greater challenge to keep siblings together. More are cramped into group homes, crisis shelters, treatment centers and less likely to have a family setting.
“I think CPS needs to become important to the state,” said Gelosa, “and the kids can’t fall through the cracks like they have been.”
More than ever, Arizona is in dire need of finding parents who are willing to devote their time and money to care for Arizona’s most impressionable and overlooked children.
Kidz 2 Kidz focuses on those in need across the West Valley, much like Dreamweavers Closet and Helen’s Hope Chest in the East Valley. Gelosa and Hampton are among many foster families that have faced the inconvenience and expense of driving all around the Valley in search of resources.
After more than eight consecutive years of doing foster care, Gelosa and Hampton are more than familiar with these struggles. Through trial and error they have gained the understanding and awareness to overcome hurdles and they are hoping to share their insights with the other foster families of Arizona.
“This is our purpose in life,” said Hampton, “we were meant to help others.”
Gelosa has been doing foster care intermittently for about 12 years. She has taken care of more than 21 kids. In recent years, she added two bedrooms to her house in order to keep siblings together. At present, Gelosa takes care of six children; four are siblings between the ages of 8 and 3. She and her husband have adopted two boys, both 12.
Hampton, who has been doing foster care for nine years, has adopted three children and is in the process of adopting two more. She has accepted placement for nearly 20 kids. Currently, she has six children under the age of 14 living in her home.
“We want to give them the safe and stable family life that they have not had before,” said Gelosa. “We want to teach them values and hope that they will leave our homes and take those values and morals with them.”
Both women agree that the greatest joy of foster care is seeing the children improve behaviors and succeed in school.
“The greatest struggle is trying to get services in place for the kids that need help,” said Gelosa. “That in itself is a full-time job.”
Kidz 2 Kidz relies on donations and support from the community. Currently, Gelosa and Hampton are working with local churches, organizations and families to locate foster families in need.
Though unsuccessful at obtaining a grant, the two women were undeterred; they are funding the organization out-of-pocket. They are determined and enthusiastic about promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.
“We appreciate all of the support and compassion that will make life just a little more enjoyable for these children and young adults in foster care,” said Hampton.
Kidz 2 Kidz is a 501(c)(3) organization that acknowledges any donations as tax-deductible. The store is open by appointment only. For more information, call Gelosa at 480-529-2732 or Hampton at 602-327-7019 or email Kidz2Kidz@cox.net.