'There is a foster care crisis': 9 investigates what's being done to recruit foster families

'There is a foster care crisis': 9 investigates what's being done to recruit foster families

North Carolina's foster care system is in crisis -- the state does not have enough foster homes and there are more children entering the system.

Channel 9 looked into how a new federal law could make the need even greater and what is being done about it.

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Peter Mutabazi said he always wanted to be a dad, so he decided to volunteer with foster children.

"I thought I would be married with children at 30," Mutabazi said. "At 35, I thought wait, I can spend my life looking and I can also maybe be doing something. The lady looked at me and said 'Hey, have you ever thought about being a foster dad?' I thought 'Wait, wait a minute. Well, I'm a single guy not sure I qualify.'"

He did qualify and over the next two years, he fostered 11 children.

Then, Mutabazi met Anthony.

"Within two minutes, he just said 'Can I call you dad?'" Mutabazi said. "I could not let him go. I felt, who could do that to a child?"

Children's advocates are searching for people like Mutabazi who have room in their homes and in their hearts for foster children.

Will Jones is the executive director of Thompson, a nonprofit that provides therapeutic services to children.

Jones said for every child in foster care, the state needs four foster homes to choose from to increase the odds of a good fit and to avoid sending kids to multiple homes, causing more trauma.

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"It's heartbreaking as a parent, as someone who has been a child advocate for 25 years, understanding the trauma they go through," Jones said.

North Carolina has more than 11,500 foster children, but only about 7,100 homes.

In 2021, the state will implement the Family First Prevention Services Act. It's a national effort to keep families together in part by shifting federal money from group homes to preventative services like drug treatment for parents.

Shorter group home stays could mean a need for more foster parents, which is already a challenge.

"I think there is a lot of stigma, misinformation, a lot of people hear horror stories of foster care and children in foster care," Jones said.

Jones and Becky Santoro are on a mission to change the way people see foster children and help retain parents.

Santoro and other foster parents launched Foster Village, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting foster families navigating the system.

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To help, Foster Village hosts support groups and sends out welcome kits.

"It is very difficult," Santoro said. "Statistically, they say 50 percent of foster parents don't keep fostering after a year because of second hand trauma and lack of support. The first couple days are really challenging."

Santoro said there is a need for more foster parents of color and those willing to nurture LGBTQ youth. She hands out information at businesses, yoga studios and breweries hoping to recruit people from all walks of life.

"They're single, they're married, they're empty-nesters," Santoro said. "The truth is, we all have what it takes to become a foster parent if you have empathy, if you are an encourager."

Mutabazi said he knows first hand the difference a kind stranger can make in someone's life.

Growing up in Africa, he ran way from an abusive father and lived on the streets for years until a stranger saw his potential and sent him to school, changing his life.

"Some of us had a really bad childhood, but yet in the midst of our worst, we had people who came in and said 'You know what, at your lowest, I want to be somebody for you,'" Mutabazi said.

Mutabazi said he feels like it is his turn -- he is making his title of dad official by adopting Anthony.

Want to follow Peter and Anthony's adoption journey? Peter uses Instagram to share their story, you can find him here.