As Heartland United Way continues in its mission to improve the conditions in which the people of Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties live, it has taken on a new project, Fostering Hope in the Heartland.

In May, during National Foster Care Awareness Month, the United Way worked with businesses and agencies in the four-county area to collect donated items to place in duffel bags for children entering the foster care system.

These “forever bags” will contain blankets, clothes and hygiene products for foster children to call their own.

Last weekend, volunteers got together to sort the donations in preparation for getting these bags to the children.

This is a big step in easing the transition for children who are placed with foster families.

But the biggest obstacle to providing children who are in the foster system a safe, healthy place to live is the lack of foster parents.

There is especially a need for foster parents to care for older children and teenagers. Often, these children are placed in group homes because there is no other option for them.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services works with children and families who have suffered different forms of abuse or neglect.

The department says that 64% of kids who are placed out-of-home are placed with relatives and friends. But for the other 36%, licensed foster care homes are needed. Every child should have a place to call home, with loving adults who will provide them with so much more than just a place to stay.

There are several agencies that enlist potential foster parents, help them work through the process with DHHS to be trained and become licensed, and then match them with children who need homes.

For information about becoming a foster parent and/or other resources, people can contact the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association at: (800) 772-7368.

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