One foster parent over the years has taken 48 children into her home. Another ended up adopting two of the children she fostered. Both have over a decade of experience, which they will be using to help parents who foster and adopt children in New Jersey.

Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care and the state Department of Children and Families teamed up to launch the Resilience for Resource Families Peer Support Program. The staff includes experienced resource families and former department workers who are familiar with the challenges.

National Call Center Peer Support Program Director Cherie Castellano says families can call the peer helpline number at 1-844-747-6407 to share and unload the emotional burden that sometimes comes with caring for a child who's been separated from their parents temporarily or permanently.

"Supporting the children in the system that need care can cause a tremendous amount of stress for these families, even though they choose to do this," says Castellano.

The need for the program came about when the Department of Children and Families decided to look at retention for families who were fostering and adopting children in New Jersey. In 2015, a task force found these families were very stressed and frustrated, sometimes traumatized as kids came in and out of their lives. The task force recommended a program that provided extra support for these families.

Volunteers of the peer support program are spending the next few months calling the department's 4,000 families who are caring for 6,000 children in New Jersey to ask them how they are doing and to thank them.

Many challenges that resource families face, says Castellano, are about navigating the system without sufficient training, a lack of information regarding the children they are care for, and having little control over the outcomes of the children. They also worry about the impact on their own family when they bring these kids into their homes.

But resource families surveyed in a focus group were asked about their strengths as well.

"People who step up to do this kind of amazing care are very compassionate and caregivers in every way. They describe themselves as faithful or spiritual people who are patient and love children," Castellano says.

It is important to recognize, says Castellano "the magnificent and selfless work of these 4,000 resource families in our state who are rescuing children."

Jen Ursillo is the midday news anchor on New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM