PHOENIX — There is a desperate need for foster families in Arizona, according to Child Crisis Arizona. Agency leaders say there aren't any open beds in the foster homes licensed with the agency.
There are 13,000 children in the foster care system in Arizona, and 8,000 of those kids are in Maricopa County.
CEO of Child Crisis Arizona Torrie Taj says in the past couple of months, all agencies in the state have seen a decrease in families applying to become licensed homes.
"That's the million-dollar question -- why do we not have enough families in the pipeline?" Taj asked.
Taj is hoping families in the area will consider opening up their homes like Lea Phillips did.
About two years ago, Phillips decided she wanted to foster a child. She said the process was a lot smoother than she'd imagined.
"You get a say in the types of children you foster--the ages, the genders. You get a chance to learn about the child, and in the case of Child Crisis and working with shelter staff, we even got to meet our foster child and we spent quite a bit of time before he even moved into our home," she explained.
When kids enter the system, the first choice is to place them with family members or with a foster family. If not, they go to emergency shelters or group homes.
"We all believe that a child deserves to be in a loving home. That's why we're asking everybody to consider opening your hearts, your homes and doing a great thing by helping a child in the foster care system," said Taj.
Becoming licensed takes about six months. It includes background checks, an interview, home inspection and 30 hours of training. Phillips says the process was challenging, but worth it.
"What I didn't realize...how much fun it would be and how supported I would be throughout the process," she said.
Her foster son was 6 years old when he came into the system. He lived with her and her husband for a year and a half before they adopted him.
"He's gone from being nervous and anxious and scared and shy to becoming goofy and silly and outgoing. It's been a an amazing transition to watch," said Phillips.
For people who've thought about fostering, Phillips recommend they start by going to an orientation meeting at Child Crisis. That was the first step she took, and it ended up changing her life.
"It's truly been the most rewarding experience of my life and it's honestly my favorite part of my life right now," said Phillips.
If you're interested in learning more, Child Crisis Arizona holds foster care and adoption exploration meetings twice a month, one in Phoenix and one in Mesa. The next meeting will be held on July 17 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Phoenix.
Learn more here.