Foster family opens their home and hearts for as long as needed

Kate Sumrall holding her foster baby. (WTHR Staff)
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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) — Kate Sumrall and her husband Dave have five children, but she believed there was capacity in their hearts and home to care for more.

"I think, I just have always wanted a really big family," Sumrall said. "We just kind of feel like the more the merrier and I think when you get to about three, it's pretty much chaos anyways. So one more...is just no big deal."

There are currently 13,000 children in the foster care system in Indiana. The goal of the Indiana Department of Child Services is to reunify children with their family. But while the family is separated, there is a need for foster parents to provide a safe and stable environment.

Sarah Sailors overseas the statewide effort to match children and knows being a foster parent is a big ask.

"It's hard work. We're asking you to open your heart and your home to some really hard and difficult situations and to love these kids like they're your own. And then to turn around and be able to give them back," Sailors said.

Kate Sumrall with her five children and foster baby. (WTHR Staff)
Kate Sumrall with her five children and foster baby. (WTHR Staff)

About half of the foster children in the state are matched by DCS, the other half are placed in a home through licensed placement agencies like The Villages. That's the route the Sumrall's took.

They went through a two month training and licensing process with The Villages. It required a background check, a home study and conversations with everyone in the family. Kate said, just one day after their license was issued, her phone started ringing.

"We got four calls, for four different children all under the age of two," Sumrall said. "You can pick. You know, the gender, you can pick the race, you can pick the age, you can say no."

The calls continued and within a week the match was made, a newborn boy with substance abuse disorder. This is common.

According to DCS, when a child is removed from the home, drug and alcohol abuse is a factor in 61 percent of the 2019 cases. That is down from a high of 67 percent in 2017. While the trend is in the right direction, DCS advices foster parents that if they are getting a newborn, there is a high probability the child will exhibit some symptoms of withdrawal.

"This is something that were doing for him and his family and you know, we've all been in bad places in life. I mean I've had a low, everybody has a low and his family is at a low right now. So, you know, it's just an honor to get to have this time just to love this child when his family is at a low," Sumrall said.

"The trend is moving towards the more healthy. Across the nation it's bad," Sallors said. "I think we peaked early in Indiana and you'll see that other states are starting to feel some of that effect of substance use disorders. We're all working together and partnering together to really figure out how do we make our communities healthy."

From the start, Kate knew the baby in her care would exhibit signs of withdrawal.

“I just try to do exactly what I would do for my other five children.”

"I was actually really nervous, getting a baby like this because I just wasn't sure. He did have some tremors and he cried a little bit more, but I think just a lot of love and holding him and you would never know," Sumrall said. "He's just a perfectly happy little baby. I am madly in love and he's just precious. I just try to do exactly what I would do for my other five children."

Adding another child changes the Sumrall family dynamics.

Haley, the oldest, is now 14. She doesn't remember what it was like to have a baby around. She loves being the big sister and is by all accounts her mother's number one helper.

George, the youngest, wasn't keen on being called the "baby" of the family, and with a foster newborn, he's not.

For Tait, 7, the adjustment has taken time.

"I was like, 'I don't want to foster' because I thought that there would be too much people in our family. But now since we are really fostering, I really like it. He needs lots of love because he's really little," Tait said. "I get to hold him, I get to make his bottle, I get to sit next to him (in the family van) and that's fun too."

The Sumrall children help with caring for the foster baby. (WTHR Staff)
The Sumrall children help with caring for the foster baby. (WTHR Staff)

The longer the baby stays, the more bonded the family feels. Every day Kate tries to prepare herself and the kids that the baby may stay forever or be gone tomorrow.

"My mom always say to kiss him before we go to school because he might not be here sometime. So, I want to hold him before he leaves," said Henlee. "Best case scenario, you know, he gets to go back with his parents. And they get healthy and get the help they need. I mean that is the number one goal," Sumrall said. "So, just praying that that happens for him. And if not, we are a foster to adopt family, so we would just snatch him up real fast."

The Sumralls lead a growing Christian church in Fishers.

"Dave and I started ITOWN Church about nine years ago. We run about 4,500 to 5,000 on a weekend," Sumrall said.

She posted on social medial that she took on a new role as "foster mom of one." She was then inundated with questions from members of her congregation who wanted to know more.

"It's just been an overwhelming response of people wanting to know which agency we used, or 'how do I get started?'" Kate said.

To better educate about fostering, Kate invited The Villages to host a Sunday night public information session at ITOWN. Nearly 200 people showed up.

The Villages is the LCPA DCS agency that placed the little boy with the Sumralls.

"I worry about it every day. We have 168 children in villages home in Marion county right now, we have 138 foster families and that's not enough foster families," Choy said.

Right now there are 13,459 children in foster care in Indiana. There are foster families in all of Indiana's 92 counties, but more than half in August 2019 were placed in Marion, Allen, Lake, Madison and St. Joseph, Delaware, Vigo and Vanderburgh counties.

DCS emphasizes that at this point they are able to locate a bed for each child at night, but the children need more.

"It's not just searching for a bed. Its searching for a good match. So we need a real diverse pool of foster parents to be able to help us match those kids to the right home initially and not have to remove them and move them time and time again," Sailors said.

And though the total number of children in the foster care system is down, the latest numbers reveal there is an increase in the number of times that children are moved from house to house.

CHINS Average Number of Placements

  • August 2017: 2.02

  • August 2018: 2.13

  • August 2019: 2.22

Sailors believes the more licensed foster parents available to choose from, the better chance of a good first match.

The plight of the child is what concerns Kate Sumrall the most.

"They're just victims of their environment and none of it is their fault. And children are resilient, you know, it's amazing what love will do for a child. What a stable, safe environment can do for a child. They can make so much progress," Sumrall said.

Ironically, the day after hosting The Villages at ITOWN, the Sumrall's got the call. The little boy they had made part of their family was going back home.

Kate broke the news by posting a picture of the empty crib writing, "Although this happened faster than expected, we are believing God's hand is on him and his mom. My crew is missing him big time, but counting it an honor to play a small role in this family's story."

"Grief is an inherent part of foster care...it is...and it's hard to prepare for that," Choy said.

But Kate is coping and plans to welcome another foster child soon.

"We did not do this for us, we did this for him and his family," Sumrall said. "I just am so blessed that I was able to find foster care. I think it's been the most rewarding thing that I could do, my family could do, my children, it's just invaluable."

The Villages foster care training at ITOWN

If you are interested in learning more about fostering, The Villages training totals 20 hours and one class is taken online. All 20 hours of training are required to become a licensed foster parent through a licensed child placing agency like The Villages.

The training sessions build upon each other and are best taken in order, however, if one is missed for some reason it can be taken the next time it is offered. The are offered monthly at The Villages Indianapolis office.

The Villages' RAPT training is also hosted at ITOWN and registration is active.

  • RAPT I - Wednesday, October 9 from 6 – 9:30 p.m.
  • RAPT 2 - Online
  • RAPT 3 - Thursday, October 10 from 6 - 9:30 p.m.

Trauma Informed Care is Friday, October 11 from 6 – 9:30 p.m.

Tools to Manage Behaviors & Sexual Abuse is Saturday, October 12 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Registration can be completed online here or by calling 317-775-6500.

To submit a licensing inquiry form online through DCS, you can contact them directly by clicking here. DCS the trainings are done by region.

Roles in a Care Community. (ITOWN Church)
Care Communities

Want to help, but not take on fostering a child 24/7? You can join a Care Community.

This is a team of people that wrap around a foster family. They offer emotional, spiritual/prayer, and physical/financial support. Members choose which roles they want to play in the care community.

New Care Communities are being formed. To learn more you can attend a Care Community Information Session on Thursday, October 24. It will be held at 7 p.m. at the ITOWN Church located at 12491 E. 136th Street, Fishers, IN 46038.