Sharon Ross made a plan in 1976, mostly because she "had time on her hands," as she put it. With her daughters getting ready to go back to college, Ross started a daycare. She was later encouraged, though, to start a foster care service.
Now, almost 40 years later, Ross is known as a woman who offered a home to 105 children. Having a storied career — the most she ever fostered at once was 13 siblings — she retired last summer, showing a positive side to the foster care system that's often been marred by negativity.
Back in September of last year, staff members of the Oregon Department of Human Services Coos and Curry County Foster Care and Adoption Program honored Ross with a party and a framed picture of the names of all the children she helped find a home, The Gazette-Times reported.
After the party, Ross spoke about how it was never easy being a foster mom, especially at a time when there weren't a lot of care centers.
"Foster care was very much different back then," Ross told The Gazette-Times. "I didn't know any other foster parents, and there were no trainings. I stumbled into it, and probably for the first 10 years, I stumbled my way through it."
That stumble was a graceful one, leading to more than 100 children finding homes and the creation of an organization that offers support and advice to foster parents.
The organization also helps foster families find "whatever a child needs: clothing, bunk beds, music lessons, band instruments, sports equipment, team fees and church camp scholarships. Some things, such as bike helmets, car seats and life jackets, are donated; other things are passed around from family to family," The Gazette-Times reported.
Ross even adopted some children into her own family, a total of 18 over "40 years and two husbands," she said. This shouldn't always be the goal of foster homes, though, she added.
Instead, foster homes should be a way to put families back together "so they can be reunited." Sometimes that will even require siblings and family members to be fostered together, The Gazette-Times reported.
As of 2013, there were more than 402,000 children in foster care, a dip from the 517,000 who were fostered in 2004, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway. During 2013 alone, about 254,000 children entered foster care, with about 238,000 leaving their foster care homes.
Almost half of the children in these homes are in nonrelative ones, like the one Ross ran. This is a 1 percent rise from 2004, when about 46 percent of children were in those sort of foster homes, CWIG explained.
But these homes have a dark side, specifically they often don't help children succeed during or before their stay. One study from 2007 found that children in troubled homes have more success than those who stay in state-funded foster homes. Specifically, children from troubled homes will "have better employment, delinquency and teen motherhood outcomes when they remain at home," according to the study.
These issues don't stop once children leave foster care, either. About half of youths who age out of their foster homes are employed in their 20s, with 6 in 10 of those children getting convicted of a crime, The New York Times reported. Three in 4 aged-out women will need public assistance after they leave the home, and only 6 in 100 people who age out earn a community college degree afterward.
But some organizations and lawmakers have noticed this trend and have started to work to beat it, The Times reported. The federal government has also funded and assisted these homes with education grants, subsidies and supportive funds to make it easier for children to find a foster home and succeed from it.
And, as The Times reported, some states — like New York, Illinois and Vermont — upped their age limit to 21. This comes after Congress passed a law in 2008 that will match "money to states that extend foster care to age 21."
Some states also offer "transitional housing," too, where foster care youngsters will find a new home automatically.