HARRISBURG — Earlier this year, Coyote Hill Christian Children's Home in Harrisburg launched a foster care services program to train and serve foster families across Mid-Missouri.
For 30 years, Coyote Hill has provided a safe place to be a child for foster children in Boone County. The neighborhood of foster homes is located on nearly 300 acres, featuring two fishing lakes, camping sites and an equestrian arena.
The property has four houses with enough beds for six to eight children each. A fifth home is opening this month.
"We just really want to expand our reach," development and marketing manager Megan Gillispie said. "We get calls at the Children's Home all the time, but we're just full. That happens more than we like. We thought we can still help these kids even if we can't take them in our houses."
The new foster care services program helps train and license foster parents, while also providing support along the way.
"The retention rate for foster parents is extremely low because it is not an easy job, and we know that," Gillispie said.
So far, Coyote hill has licensed 25 families across Boone, Callaway, Howard, Randolph, Audrain, Cole, Monroe and Cooper counties.
To become a foster parent, training through the Specialized Training, Assessment, Resources, Support and Skills (STARS) program. Coyote Hill is offering a STARS class this fall.
Ahead of that training, Coyote Hill is holding a series of informational meetings for those who want to learn more about becoming a foster parent.
"When you Google 'becoming a foster parent in Missouri' it can be difficult," Gillispie said.
In addition to a meeting held Thursday evening at Wesley United Methodist Church in Jefferson City, events are also scheduled 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Family Life Fellowship in Moberly and 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at Faith Family Church in Fayette.
Those unable to attend the events can also contact Amy Kingery at 573-819-1906 for more information.
According to data from the Missouri Department of Social Services, the number of children in foster care in the state has increased over the past year.
"It ultimately provides more safe homes for children in Missouri," Gillispie said.
There are also options for those who want to help but don't see themselves as foster parents.
"In addition to seeing more foster parents licensed, we'd love to see more families rally around the foster families," Gillispie said. "We know that not everyone can be a foster parent — it's definitely something that you are called to."
One way others can help without taking in a child full-time is by becoming a respite care provider. Respite care offers relief for foster parents, as well as a fun time for foster youth. Respite care providers can choose to provide temporary care for anything from a day to a week.
Coyote Hill will be offering respite provider training 9 a.m.-noon. Aug. 8.
"It's a great way to dip your toes in the water if you're considering becoming a foster parent," Gillispie said.
Coyote Hill accepts donations, from food items and household items to school supplies.
"These kids sometimes show up with a trash bag of a few belongings, if not nothing to their name," Gillispie said. "The saying, 'It takes a village,' is so true."