LAGRANGE — A new foster home opening in LaGrange will use animal companionship to help children in need.
Operators of The Farm Place hosted an open house Wednesday to showcase the 3,500-square-foot facility to the public.
When a child is removed from a dangerous environment, the psychological impact can be tremendous, said Farm Place founder Marge Malone.
Their parents and pets are taken from them and the child, if coming from a meth house, isn’t allowed to bring anything with them, she said.
“You might have a 2- or 3-year-old who’s just lost their parents, seen them handcuffed and taken away and seen their pet taken away, and (Department of Child Services) may have to look for a foster family and may not be able to find one right away. Sometimes two to three hours a child will be waiting, having lost everything they know,” Malone said.
When a child is taken from a home where meth was consumed, they can’t take their toys, they can’t take their clothes due to the risk of chemical exposure, they can’t see their parents. The child may be left alone with authorities until relatives can get to them. If family members are not available, authorities are left to search for a foster home full of strangers to take in the child.
“The idea of The Farm is to be able to take that child, bring them to a safe place, get them a bed and, if they need it, a cat to pet or a dog to pet to get their mind off what they’re going through,” Malone said.
The Farm Place aims to provide a home, leased to a licensed foster care family, to be used for urgent care for children using animal companionship to foster a safe, nurturing and restorative place.
The new home at The Farm Place has eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and a walk-out basement on 10 acres.
“A lot of times, these children are able to connect with animals in a way that they aren’t able to connect with people,” said Keith James, a volunteer with The Farm Place.
The Farm Place, a faith-based organization, and its board have decided to remain debt-free during the construction of the new home, the next phase of additions to the property and its upkeep. Support from the community has exceeded expectations, organizers said, and the next phase of the project is already funded even though the initial building has only recently been completed.
A lodge at The Farm Place will house office staff and animals. There are also plans to use the lodge to train parents in basic life skills such as balancing a checkbook and cooking.
The building will serve as a bridge to reunite parents to their children when they are ready.
Malone said statistics estimate that if a child stays in a home with addiction, by the time they are 12, nearly 70 percent will become addicts too, following in the footsteps of their parents.
“This is a rescue organization. It’s to rescue those kids that are left with no other resources,” she said. “This is the first step in the healing process for these kids that might otherwise go the same way as their parents.”
Between the four counties primarily served by The Farm Place – LaGrange, Steuben, DeKalb and Noble counties – nearly 530 children had to be removed from their homes, organizers said.
The Farm also serves areas slightly outside of the coverage area as the need arises, including portions of Elkhart and Kosciusko counties.
“We hope to involve as many counties as possible,” Malone said. “The need is getting worse and the drug problem is not getting better.”
A report from the Indiana Department of Child Services and the Kids’ Data Center last year estimated 200,000 children were taken out of their homes due to abuse or neglect due to addiction, James said.
The idea for The Farm Place came to Malone after reading a 2015 article called “The Hidden Face of Meth,” which discussed the living conditions of children in meth-afflicted homes and how youngsters are passed around in child services following a parent’s arrest.
“There were so many times that when I look back I could see how God had planned,” she said.
She said that in 2012, she had looked at a property for ARK Animal Sanctuary, of which she is also president. She had wanted to build a new animal shelter at the location, but the owner decided he didn’t want to sell. As soon as she got home, the county commissioner called and asked if she wanted to take over the county’s animal shelter instead.
After reading the article, Malone said she knew she had to do something to help the area’s foster children and she knew exactly what that would be.
“If God could create the universe, then this was a no-brainer for me,” she said. “I don’t think anything worthwhile will ever go 100 percent smoothly but I think it’s worth it and I have faith that this is just the beginning.”
The Farm Place is at 1680 S.R. 9. More information is available at www.farmplace.org.