LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) — With 118 children from George and Greene counties in state custody, the need for foster homes is urgent.

Mississippi’s Department of Child Protection Services has a unit focused on recruitment of families across the state with 3,884 total children under MDCPS’ care.

Social workers first try to place children in a relative’s home. If that’s not possible, they work to match children with approved foster parents. Group homes and shelters are often at capacity, leaving the last resort: placing children in hotel rooms with contracted caregiver services.

They start with trying to keep children in the same area as their biological parent(s), but that’s not always possible.

“One of our primary pushes is homes to take in sibling groups because they are getting split up and sometimes across the state,” said area social work supervisor Jennifer Belcher.

Homes are especially needed for teenagers. There’s no automatic age in which children leave state custody. 18-year-olds wanting to go to college could still need a foster home while they attend school.

The agency’s primary goal is to reunite children with their biological families. Foster parents may host children from as short as a week to over a year.

“We ask that they’re just willing to co-parent and be understanding and patient with these children who are in care,” said Belcher. “And just wanting to provide them a safe, loving home while you help out with, hopefully, reunification.”

All foster homes must go through a licensing process with training to make sure the home is safe. For married couples or legally single people, no unmarried partners, over 21-years-old may apply. Foster parents can have no more than four children in the home before applying. Everyone in the home at least 14-years-old will require a background check.

A licensure specialist does a monthly home visit and a case worker is assigned to each child and foster family. Additional support is also available for children with behavioral issues or who have experienced trauma.

“We have a big foster parents support system in place as well. There’s Facebook groups. A lot of them know each other, they go to events, or they are at church. So they offer big support to each other because they understand more than anybody what they’re going through,” Belcher said.

Families also receive a monthly board payment to help support a child that is placed in the home.

The foster parent application can be completed online. Licensure typically takes two to three months from when an application is first submitted. Homes can be certified to host children 0-5, 6-11, and 12-18 years old, or all three age ranges. Applicants can preference whether they’re open to hosting sibling groups or individual children.

Any groups interested in receiving more information or hosting a MDCPS presentation in George and Greene counties can contact Belcher at jennifer.belcher@mdcps.ms.gov or (228) 769-3449.