YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The number changes daily, but in 2018, Ohio had close to 16,000 kids in foster care, 4,000 of which were there because of a parent or guardian having a substance abuse problem.
The opioid epidemic is still a serious issue, but now, foster care agencies are taking in more younger kids and groups of siblings.
“I saw a need in our community. We’re always gonna have people, we’re always gonna have children,” said Youngstown mother Sharon Kelly.
Kelly has been a single mother for 40 years, and a single foster parent for 25.
She turned her love for children into a welcoming home. She’s also making sure kids know loving homes can come from any situation.
“The children are our future,” she said.
Kelly has six kids of her own, plus 29 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“Without them having some type of direction, the world is going to be a madhouse,” she said.
She’s also been a foster parent to more than 20 young children over the past 25 years.
“So somebody has to step in and say, ‘I’m going to do what I can do to help,'” she said.
Kelly says she’s always been drawn to helping children, and after her kids moved out she knew fostering was in her heart.
“Children are real, they need love and structure. With those two combinations, we can have some beautiful people in the world,” Kelly said.
She says being a single parent doesn’t make a home any less loving for a foster child.
“They are alone and two alones will make togetherness,” she said.
Kelly currently has two sibling groups in her home, seven children in total, all aged eight to 10. Her 12-year-old grandson, Debraylon Cochran, has also lived with her for most of his life.
“If you need help with something, she’ll help you and try to find the best way to help you,” Cochran said.
Kelly says one of the hardest parts about being a foster parent is letting them go, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from doing it.
“Because, you know, that you have instilled something in them that they didn’t have when they came. You are equipping them what they need to survive,” she said.
And with 25 years of being a foster parent, Kelly says it’s rewarding whether you’re a single parent or not. Anyone can do it.
“All you have to do is have some love, some compassion, some structure, you know, and just have an open heart to want to love somebody,” she said.
Kelly is currently part of a private agency called Ohio Mentor.