COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – Georgia is in crisis— a crisis that tugs at your heart and leaves you asking what you can do for help.
There are reportedly more than 400,000 children in foster care throughout the United States, and some of those children are right here in Muscogee County.
"We have got to do something about this," said Judge Warner L. Kennon, Chattahoochee Circuit Juvenile Courts.
In Muscogee County, the number of local children in foster care has been growing steadily over the past few years.
Today, there are reportedly over 400 kids in the foster care system. The number of children needing foster care has far outgrown the number of families willing to provide it.
"When we started this crisis, we had 539 children in care. We had 60 foster homes in Columbus, and only 100 beds. So, these kids are having to be placed in far off places, just to find a bed," said Judge Kennon.
Judge Warren Kennon, who works with the juvenile drug court system in Muscogee County says the growing opioid and drug epidemic is a big reason for the sharp increase, and so many children being in foster care.
"Unless we can get our arms around the drug problem, I think it's… well it has only gotten worse," said Judge Kennon.
"The whole thing, it's kind of sad the amount of kids who need help here in Columbus," said Mark Valldeperas, a foster parent.
The Valldeperas family taking the first step to becoming foster parents in 2013, already having two biological children, their family multiplying overnight.
"We got a 4, 2, and baby. It was crazy. It was pure chaos," said Jessica Valldeperas, a foster parent.
In the four years, fostering over 25 children. Most recently, a family of 4 siblings.
"We got the 12-year-old boy first, and it broke our heart that they were all possibly going to a group home, so we felt like we were going to take them in permanently, and that's what we did," said Mark Valldeperas.
Fostering isn't without its own unique challenges. Many children come from difficult and broken homes of abuse and neglect. As a result, suffer from behavior problems, and long-standing trauma.
"We had a kid that was supposed to be in the second grade and hadn't been to school since kindergarten. Him and his 8 siblings, we only had 3 of them were completely malnourished. He would ask us at night every night if we were going to have breakfast every morning, not if we were going to have breakfast," said Mark Valldeperas.
But experts say this can all be reversed with the help of a safe and loving home.
"If they experience that in our home: the safety, and the love and the family, if they've never experienced that before, then maybe here, even if they are only here for a few days, they see, maybe something different. And maybe long after, if that has made an impression, maybe it can make an impression that something different is out there," said Jessica Valldeperas.
The Valldeperas family says they can't imagine life without fostering, and their many children they have grown to love.
Now packing up and moving to accommodate their growing family of 6.
"We don't have the perfect environment, but we try to give them a much better environment than what they're coming from," Mark Valldeperas said. "It's nice to know the impact you can make. Even though those kids aren't yours forever. There's still that attachment there, and it's wonderful."
Agencies say the goal of fostering is to place the children back in the care of biological parents or family when possible.
You can contact Judge Warner L. Kennon in Juvenile court for more information on how you can become a foster parent (706) 653-4290.