Former Shelby County foster mom shares experience as need for foster families increases

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A former foster mom is sharing her experience as the need for foster families increases.

FOX13 previously reported on a report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office that detailed issues with the state’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

Problems mentioned in the scathing reported included widespread sexual allegations, a “crisis” of a lack of case managers, and children sleeping in offices.

MORE: Scathing report details sexual abuse, other issues at Tennessee DCS

In one case, the state comptroller’s office said one child slept in an office for 24 nights during the time period between April and July of this year.

Part of the problem is there are too many kids and not enough case managers, but the other part is there are not enough foster families in the state, especially here in Shelby County.

“To become a foster parent, you have to have unconditional love,” said Kayla Smith, a former foster mother.

Unconditional love and space in your home.

Those are just two of the things Smith said she and her husband were ready to give when they made the decision to become foster parents.

“It wasn’t a lengthy process but it was a very extensive process. It included a background check and they have to come out and monitor your home and make sure that everything is suited for living for a child,” said Smith.

This year in Shelby County, there were 1,306 foster children placed as of September 2022, but just under 700 approved foster homes.

In July of 2022, the comptroller’s office said there were 9,000 children in DCS custody, which is a seven percent increase in the past four years, but the number of case managers declined by 17 percent over that same time period.

In one case, the comptroller’s office says one child slept in an office for 24 nights during the time period between April and July of 2022.

Smith said although she’s no longer a foster parent, there’s still a need.

“There’s a great need for that here in Memphis. There were times I was called in the middle of the night for emergency care for children, I’ve had children that stayed with me extensively, the longest I think I ever had a child stay with me was three years and I also wound up becoming an adoptive parent.”

An audit from the comptroller’s office shows that Davidson County and Shelby County lead the state with the highest number of DCS cases.

In Shelby County, there’s an average of 17 cases for a single case manager, but the maximum caseload per case manager is 82.

Smith said if there’s someone who may be considering taking the leap, she says it will always be worth it.

“If you know you have room in your home or you have love in your heart to love someone else, do it. Everybody needs someone.”