HUNTINGTON — Four hundred fifty-three American flags planted this week in Ritter Park are a stark reminder of every child currently in need of a foster family in Cabell County.
There are approximately 7,000 children in the foster care system in West Virginia and only about 3,000 foster families available to them. There is a dire need for more foster parents amid an opioid epidemic that has torn many families apart, said Kylee Hassan, communications and outreach director for Mission West Virginia.
May is National Foster Care Month. To raise awareness, the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District is hosting a family fun movie night Friday, May 24, that explores fostering.
GHPRD will show the 2018 comedy "Instant Family," about a couple dealing with the highs and lows of becoming foster parents to three children. The event is free and begins at 6 p.m. at the park. The movie, which is rated PG-13, will begin after the sun sets.
United Bank of Huntington will provide concession-style food and New Huntington Church will have an inflatable for children to enjoy. Mission West Virginia, which acts as the liaison between the state and private foster care organizations, will provide information for those interested in becoming foster parents. Several foster families will also be there to answer questions, Hassan said.
"It's a huge epidemic, and there are children who are waiting a long time in the system," she said. "Of course in foster care, the whole goal is to try to get them back to their families if it can be done so safely. In the meantime, we need safe and loving homes for these children while they wait."
Hassan said qualifications to become a foster parent recently were lowered for those 18 and older. There are no age cap requirements. People may be married, single, same-sex couples and either own a home or rent a place. Foster care agencies vet candidates to make sure children will be in a safe home and that candidates don't have criminal backgrounds, she said.
GHPRD came up with the idea to place flags to remind people about the foster care crisis in the state after being contacted by Hassan, said Lauren Carte, development and recreation manager.
The district similarly places a "healing field" of American flags every year for victims of 9/11 and the 1970 Marshall plane crash. The district was excited about getting behind the cause and Executive Director Kevin Brady thought there should be a visual reminder for the 453 children currently awaiting a family in Cabell County, Carte said.
"When (Hassan) started talking numbers, we thought there should be some type of display because those are large numbers," she said.
For more information about the event or becoming a foster parent, visit www.missionwv.org.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.