By James Polston
Gov. Eric Holcomb joins forces with former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and the Department of Child Services in a campaign to raise awareness for foster children. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS — All Pro Dad and Indiana Department of Child Services kicked off a foster care and adoption awareness campaign Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
All Pro Dad is a fatherhood program that offers support, tips and advice to help dads be actively engaged in their children’s lives from Family First, a national nonprofit that helps families.
Tony Dungy, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Pro Football Hall or Famer, is the national spokesman for All Pro Dad.
Dungy said that he and his wife stumbled upon the need of adoption and foster families when he was the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the early 2000’s as he was helping one of his assistant coaches in the adoption process.
While getting interviewed by the adoption agency about how Dungy would help his assistant coach by moving his hours around, offering childcare and making it easier for the single man become a father, Dungy and his wife starting asking question
Terry Stigdon, Director of the Department of Child Services, joins Gov. Eric Holcomb and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy to raise awareness for foster children. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
Dungy said the adoption agency told him there was a backlog of African-American and biracial children who need homes.
“That caught me by surprise because everything in my mind, everything I’ve heard was, ‘Oh, it’s so hard to adopt and you have to go to Russia or you have to go to China or there’s people on five-year waiting lists,’” Dungy said.
Since then, Dungy and his wife have adopted seven children and became foster parents.
“It started with us getting the message about the need,” Dungy said. “We were probably like so many people just cruising along not knowing that there was a need and that’s what our mission is at All Pro Dad and Family First.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana has more than 15,000 kids in the foster care system and over the past several weeks All Pro Dad has received 455 leads of potential foster families.
“That’s significant,” Holcomb said. “But we’re committed to doing and we must do even more to strengthen that whole foster family care system.”
Mark Merrill, President of Family First, announces a campaign to raise awareness for foster children. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
Mark Merrill, president of Family First, said the statewide campaign includes advertising on many platforms. All Pro Dad & Kids Experiences to be announced soon will be scheduled for next season with the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana colleges.
The Dad & Kids Experience is held at a team’s practice facility or stadium. Starting in 2002, during the three-hour event, dads and kids rotate through stations and participate in interactive games designed to strengthen their relationships and deliver useful fatherhood tips.
Merrill said the goal of this campaign is to challenge families to adopt or become foster parents.
“We’re going to be getting that message to challenge Hoosiers to just bring one more child into their home,” Merrill said. “To open their hearts and their homes to just one more child.”
DCS announced $1 million of the $25 million Holcomb awarded the department earlier this year to increase the pay of employees and improve quality of services will help the department recruit new foster parents along with retention and training programs.
The agency also plans to hire 14 additional foster care licensing specialists to help with those efforts and adding a liaison between the agency and foster families across the state.
“We really need more people to make a difference in a child’s life here in Indiana,” said Terry Stigdon, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. “If you have extra space and love consider becoming a foster parent.”
The foster care and adoption awareness campaign is supported in part by a grant to DCS from the Lilly Endowment.
For more information on how to become a foster parent, visit AllProDad.com/Foster/Indiana or call 1-833-4IN-KIDS.
“There are no unwanted children. There aren’t,” Stigdon said. “Just unfound families.”
James Polston is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.