The Maggie House in Charleston and the Young Children’s Home at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith continue to serve one of the area’s biggest social needs: Children in foster care.

As reported by the Times Record in a series of articles last year, the Fort Smith area has the state’s highest number of children in foster care and the two homes together serve as a safe environment for 64 children. Keeping siblings together is a major concern with housing foster care children. As of Dec. 12, there are 19 sibling groups among the 64 children at the two facilities.

According to Court Appointed Special Advocates of Sebastian County, there are currently more than 800 children in foster care in the Fort Smith area. That is up from about 620 in June 2016.

Although reunification with parents is the ultimate goal, many of the children are also adopted to new families after staying at Maggie House and the Young Children’s Home. The two facilities were created by the Arkansas Division of Free Will Baptist Ministries.

Nine children with the Maggie House and the Young Home are currently in the pre-adoption process and six children have been recently reunited with their families. This has opened up 15 beds that are in high demand for the area, said Bob Moody, executive administrator for the Arkansas Division of Free Will Baptist Ministries.

Under the direction of Free Will Baptist Ministries, Maggie House opened its doors in December 2015 to 32 children and the Young Children’s Home became a place for 32 more children in July.

Moody said the nonprofit group will soon be paying off the final $17,000 note on the $1.1 million loan to repurpose Maggie House from a former nursing home. A fundraising campaign will follow to build an activity building at the Young Children’s Home to house offices for the two case managers and administrators.

The extra space at the Young Children’s Home would also provide a place for family visits and tutoring. About $400,000 is needed to build the activity building, Moody said.

One set of house parents is also sought for one of the four homes at the neighborhood-like Young Children’s Home, according to Amy Keener, administrator at Maggie House.

The foster parents have to be Christian married couples with no more than one child of their own who will be living in the home, must have a high school diploma and have worked with kids in some capacity, whether it be professionally or volunteer.

“And we’re always looking for respite couples to help on the weekend,” Keener said.

Respite couples allow the house parents to have a much-needed weekend to themselves. Training is provided.

Each house at the Young Children’s Home is about 2,750-square-feet with four bedrooms and two bathrooms for the kids, a master bedroom and bathroom for the foster parents and an open-concept living area, kitchen and study area.

The goal is to keep siblings together, and having four designated bedrooms in each house makes it easier to keep siblings under one roof.

Maggie House accepts kids ages 6-17 and 5-year-olds if they have a sibling in the home. The Young Children’s Home will accept children as young as newborns if they have a sibling in the home.

The average stay is six to nine months, although that can vary widely, Moody said.