New Logan County foster home in the works

Published 4:20 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2024

By Michael Collins, Bowling Green Daily News

A new transitional foster home set to open in Logan County aims to make the often traumatizing process easier for many of Kentucky’s 8,000 foster children.

Isaiah 117 House, a nonprofit based in Tennessee, plans to open the organization’s first Kentucky home with the help of five local foster families.

Lori Gafford, the new home’s expansion coordinator and a parent of four adoptees, said it will offer a temporary space for children and teens entering foster care before they are adopted or reunited.

“We’re going to have volunteers that are taking care of the children, giving them baths and a room, clothes and toys,” Gafford said. “We want to say ‘yes’ to the children. If we can make it happen, we’re going to make it happen.”

Gafford said the home will prioritize Logan County foster children – around 50, which is too many for the 15 local foster families. Children from around the region will be allowed to stay as long as a bed is available and their social worker is reliably able to visit.

The home will feature two beds and be staffed by volunteers and workers to care for kids. Children can stay for up to three days while social workers arrange long-term housing, and a visitation space will allow biological families supervised interactions with children.

The visitation room is unique in Logan County, Gafford said, as biological parents have typically been forced to meet in a public space. Gafford added that these meetings often end in tears and sadness, so a private space “gives the parent dignity.”

“Yes, (the parent) made mistakes, but we want them to be able to work on that and provide for their child and work to get them back,” Gafford said.

Gafford said when a child is removed from their biological family, they are typically transported to a local Department for Community Based Services office to await placement. Children are sometimes placed quickly, but a child can stay in the office for days at a time while social workers find an open bed.

“Those children, until they could find a proper placement, were sleeping in offices on the floor on mattresses,” Gafford said. “That burdened our hearts.”

She said it can be a traumatizing experience for a child, a fact she knows well after adopting four children over 10 years and working with the Logan County Foster Association.

Children come into foster care “at all hours of the night,” often bringing only a bag full of belongings or the clothes they’re wearing, she said.

Gafford’s son was one such child. She and her husband took him in 2019 and said it was a “traumatic day” for everyone. He left his home on a winter day with “nothing but one Hot Wheel toy” and never returned.

“When my little boy came into care, my husband had to stay back and care for the house, and I had to go get him,” Gafford said. “I met him on a country road at 9 o’clock at night and I had to borrow a car seat.”

She said it would have been easier with a resource like Isaiah 117, which also provides foster families and children with unused clothes, car seats and other necessities.

“It is going to change the way foster care begins,” Gafford said.

The process can also be difficult on social workers who are “working hard to find proper placement,” Gafford said. Isaiah 117 also aims to lighten the load on workers and allow them to focus on placing children rather than providing basic necessities.

Gafford and four other Logan County foster parents, caring for 24 children combined, reached out to the organization in 2022 hoping to start a local home. They began preliminary work with the nonprofit last August and have since raised over $68,000 as of November.

She hopes that number will soon pass $100,000.

The project is currently in its “Raising Awareness” stage, but Gafford said the generous support from the county has put them “a little ahead of the game” compared to other projects, which typically take around a year and a half to complete.

She added that a lemonade stand fundraiser raised roughly $45,000 in three days, and a Christmas open house event brought another $25,000.

“Logan County has really rallied behind this call,” Gafford said. “We couldn’t do it without them. There were 10 of us, and now our community has really come and walked alongside us, and we could not do it without that.”

Gafford said the home will need to be debt-free and staffed with 40 trained, trauma-informed volunteers before it opens, but added that likely won’t be difficult considering the community support.

The organization is still in the process of finding a suitable plot of land or a house worth fixing up. They plan to hold a large fundraiser luncheon March 7 to help pad the house’s annual budget, roughly $175,000, which goes to upkeep and operations.

The organization will also hold it first black tie charity ball in Russellville on Feb. 17 at The Queen’s Closet to support Isaiah 117 and LifeChoice Pregnancy Care Center.

Details on donations and volunteering can be found at Gafford said unused clothing, toys, car seats and other items can be dropped off – email for more information.