Centers Cry Out For More Foster Parents In The Basin - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |

Centers Cry Out For More Foster Parents In The Basin

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Anum Valliani
NewsWest 9

PERMIAN BASIN -  Stripped from their families, separated from siblings, and sent away. That's the fate of half of the kids in the Basin picked up by Child Protective Services. It's all because there aren't enough foster parents to take them in.

"I had a child tell me one time they were so hungry they've had to eat dirt. I had a child tell me one time that footsteps down the hall means that daddy is coming in the room to do the bad things to them. You know, children shouldn't have to live in fear," JaLynn Hogan said.

Jalynn Hogan is the executive director at high sky children's ranch. Where she says about 30 children fill up each of the emergency shelters at any given time, waiting to be matched into a temporary home. But a lot of times, that doesn't happen. 

"There's nowhere for the kids to go. There's no homes here," she said. Hogan said despite the crime, there isn't an increase in the number of kids needing homes. But there is a vital need for West Texans to foster children. And she and experts can only guess why. So now foster care centers are crying out for help for people like Jim and Amy Riser.

"I always wanted a big family. I always wanted lots of kids and just crazy chaos at my house," Amy said.

And they made it happen nearly 20 years ago, when they decided to foster. They say they were having fertility issues at the time. "We weren't giving up on that but yet we didn't care what it took to start a family," Amy explained.

Jim was on board, but not completely sold until years after, when a child they had taken in invited the couple to his high school graduation at the Astrodome.

"I was at the verge honestly at that point of this. Do we make a difference in their lives, because if you have little ones you really don't know. If you have a baby, you know you give them a safe place, but are they gonna remember you? Probably not. You know so for me, that made a big difference in it," he explained.

The Risers make it a point to say their a foster family, not an adoptive one, and that had some advantages.

"We were always able to tell the families, we're not here to adopt, we're not looking for a child, we're simply here to love your child while they're in care and away from home," Amy said, adding that it opened lines of communication and trust between them and the birth families.

Now 60 pairs of little fit have come into their home. They say they've had children from newborns all the way to 14 and with an assortment of medical conditions. They say each one has their own quirks and bits to remember, adding that they have had their favorites, and generally navigate towards a sweet spot with the children they take in. 

"We as a couple have found that we enjoy little bitty ones, Amy said. "Our kids are teenagers right now and sometimes when you get your kids close enough in age with the foster children, there gets to be a little bit of a hard-" during her pause, Jim cut her off quipping for her to "tell the truth we have our own teenagers, we don't need anymore."

Rashunda Ayinla is on the other side of this story, and hers is a classic tale of paying it forward.

"If I hadn't come into foster care, I would be behind bars somewhere or pregnant," she said.
Ayinla came to High Sky when she was 11 years old, and still remembers the date like it was yesterday. October 8th, 1999.

She said she was outside of school with her three cousins and younger sister when case workers were trying to get in and take them. She rebelled and was taken away in handcuffs. Ayinla never knew a permanent home, not even before entering the system.

"My mother was killed when I was 3 years old. My dad actually shot my mother, so I was raised by my grandmother," she explained.

And in a house without structure, rules, or curfews, that's an overstatement. "Our house was always dirty. Always electricity off. No water," Ayinla said.

CPS eventually removed the bunch from the home, and Ayinla was angry.  

"I hated it because all of us were split up. We're used to being with each other, especially me and one of my cousins, we're only six months apart, so we were best friends, and for them to just take us away from one another it was just hard. Very hard," she choked out.

As a result Ayinla had some behavioral problems and switched in and out of homes, even taking a break to live with an aunt out in California, who she didn't get along with just after a couple of months.

 "So I called CPS and actually asked to come back." She eventually landed in her final home at 14 where she stayed until she aged out. During her time in care, she says she had a mix of caretakers.

"Some of em negative, but the ones that I ended up with, very positive. I actually still call them mom and dad today. They treated me like I was their own. They had one biological daughter. Wouldn't be able to tell the difference between her and me," she said.

Ayinla is still estranged from her family, but now she works at High Sky, where her heart fills with joy at the chance to help others. 

"I have a calling for it. I've been through it. I've walked the same walk a lot of these kids have walked," she said.

Chris and Jody Branscum know what she means. The biological siblings had been in foster care for five years after their grandmother "snapped and told them they didn't want them anymore," according to Chris. 

Jennifer and Ricky Branscum had taken them in and once their legal guardians parental rights were given up, their life changed. They were adopted.

"I felt depressed and I couldn't figure out who I was back then," he said. Now to describe what he's like, he just delivers his name with confidence and pride. 

"I can't take it because if something happens to my brother, I'll break down, because he's my little one, he's my little brother and I have to protect him. We are a strong family. No one's gonna split us apart," Jody said.

CPS caseworkers make the call on who's going where. "But it's also based on the sibling group themselves. You know the sibling groups themselves; which siblings are kind of closest to one another, which siblings fit best to one another, which will work in certain families," Hogan said. " And so while kids are in the High Sky emergency shelters, there's a matching process, "so that it's familiar when they move. It's not as scary as someone just coming and picking them up and taking them off."

"Our goal is never to keep the kids. I mean that's not what we want to do. We want the parents to do what they have to to get their kids back and we just want to help in that process," Jennifer said.

And for those worried about getting too attached Jennifer adds you just have to wake up the next day and keep on going.

"It hurts everyday. I mean you feel for these kids. You love these kids, you want what's best, I mean it's gonna get to you. You just have to get passed it," Jennifer said. People say, you know, "I couldn't take it when they leave, I couldn't take it when they leave, but you've gotta celebrate when they leave, because they're moving on to something better.

According to the Risers, it doesn't take someone extraordinary to do what they do. It's the ability to love somebody, to have some space for these kids, to not have a criminal background, and be just willing and have an open heart. But some paperwork does go into it. And in the end they say it's no matter.

"Because when they interact with one another and you seem em healing, and you see em happy, it's worth it all," Amy said.

"There comes a point, I don't even know when it is. It's a honeymoon period, they're all happy and stuff. Then there's a tough time for them, and then if you've got them long enough it's like they've been there forever," Jim added.

Hogan just pushed to have one person or couple within a neighborhood or school or church to step up. That would be all the change they'd need.

"You know these kids need you. They do. You give them a second chance at life. You really do," Ayinla said.