BESSEMER - Mark and Jane Bale have three children of their own, but have been foster parents to 45 kids over the years.
The month of May was first declared Foster Care Awareness month in 1988, but the Bales got involved with the cause when they read an article in the newspaper more than 32 years ago.
"Actually we misread the article," Jane said. "They were having support groups for foster parents and I just remember we misread something about it and thought it invited us – anybody who was interested to come – so we sat there through the whole meeting. We were kind of waiting for someone to say something and no one did, then one of the workers there said, 'Now what are you here for?'"
Since then, the Bales have been foster parents.
"Every child was a person that was in need, or their family was in need," Mark said.
Their experience made them perfect candidates for a position through the Michigan Department of Human Services that was created last year to increase foster parent recruitment and retention.
"In the beginning of January 2013 the state needed to recruit approximately 1,400 new foster homes statewide," Mark said.
There are approximately 13,000 Michigan children in foster care at any given time, according to the Michigan DHS.
The Bales made a competitive bid for the position, and they officially started May 2013.
"We give talks to churches, local groups, whoever wants to have us," Jane said. "We hope to recruit new homes, and we usually have a display with information. The retention part of our job is to work with existing homes in Iron County, Gogebic County and Ontonagon County."
The Bales talk with foster parents in the area to provide support and encouragement. They have also held training seminars for local educators so teachers can better understand any issues associated with a child's situation.
Mark said foster care programs don't typically have much publicity because of numerous confidentiality issues, and though the state met its goal last year to increase the number of foster homes, there is still work to be done.
"There is always a need for additional foster homes," he said. "A couple of the needs are for sibling family groups or special needs groups."
Having a variety of homes available allow for children to be better placed with families who match their needs.
"The more homes you have the better you can do that without having an interruption and a second move because it didn't work or something," Mark said.
Foster care is not a permanent thing, and attachment/detachment issues can take a toll, especially when young children are involved.
"You're entering foster care to be involved in the life of a child for a certain period of time," Mark said.
"That's an area that's a tough area at times. Foster parents need to talk about that, and it's an issue that we'll talk about when we talk to them."
The Bales said there are 30 foster homes throughout Iron, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties that are licensed through DHS, and there are three more that are privately licensed.
Each licensed foster home recently received a thank you card from the Bales.
They added that local businesses in the tri-county area have also showed support for the cause.
"Whether it was swimming passes, bowling passes or gift certificates to restaurants, we were able to tuck those in each little thank you," Jane said. "We'd like to thank them, the businesses who have supported the foster care. We're very, very thankful to them."
Anyone seeking more information can contact the local Department of Human Services at 906-663-6200, or 906-290-0997.
Mark and Jane Bale can be reached at 906-663-0041.
Iron County, Wis ., residents can contact Rochelle Ludtke at 715-561-3636.