As Child Abuse Prevention Month comes to a close, efforts are being made to address one of the most pressing issues related to child abuse in our community.

Guam is a community based on family. Yet in a society so centered on the familial foundation, many don't realize that there is a gaping need in our community.

Linda Rodriguez has worked for the Department of Public Health and social services for over 20 years as a human services administrator, helping children find foster homes. "Currently we have 161 children under our care," she explained. Children that enter the foster care system do so for a variety of reasons, ranging from neglect or parents who are incarcerated or on drugs to issues of physical or sexual abuse.

"Normally when these children come under our legal custody, we don't have enough foster homes," she stated.

In fact, Guam only has 24 registered homes, for the over 160 children in need. If there aren't any homes available, children are housed at emergency shelters, such as Alee Shelter or Sanctuary until they can be placed with relatives. However for some children they may end up staying in emergency housing for months, or even years. While some may end up in foster homes, others will never find a foster home before they turn 18 because there simply aren't enough homes available.

"So it gets really difficult - so right now we are in the process of trying to build a new shelter, hopefully to accommodate more children and to keep children from a large family together," Rodriguez added.

A telethon to benefit the Rigalu Foundation, and in turn the foster care system will take place this Thursday, April 30. But that's not the only way the community can help.

Rodriguez said, "We want to have like more of the local community to try and become more involved and become foster parents. We do have 24 licensed foster homes, I think it would be ideal if we at least had 50, and as your letter states, it would be even more better if we had at least five in each village on Guam."

Foster parents must be healthy and financially and emotionally stable. To find out more information on how you can become a foster parent, call Cindy Chugrad at 475-2653/72.