NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new report from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth says Tennessee ranks No. 1 in the nation for how often foster kids have to move to a different home.

In 2020, 33.7% of children in the Tennessee foster care system were placed in three or more homes in their first 12 months in custody.

“When you are removed from their home, I’ve seen this with children, they feel it’s their fault,” said Ronda Paulson, founder of Isaiah 117 House. “Getting that placement right the first time is so key.”

Paulson’s nonprofit gives children in state custody a place to go between two crucial steps of the fostering process: the moment they were removed from their previous home and the moment they are taken to a foster home.

She explained that despite working hard to tell these children what is happening to them isn’t their fault and they are loved, that can all be nullified if they are consistently taken from home to home.

“Now they truly believe there is something wrong with them,” she said. “And a child entering adulthood believing no one wants them, that there is something wrong with them, the writing is on the wall for their future.”

Paulson says one of the ways to prevent kids from being repeatedly moved is to increase the number of foster parents in Tennessee.

However, she said she has heard of many parents who currently foster and are struggling with requests to take in more children and others who stopped fostering because they felt there was a lack of support and resources.

“If you don’t feel supported and you are at your wit’s end, you probably just bow out and say this isn’t for me anymore,” Paulson explained.

Caleb Bone has been a foster parent for the past few years and agrees that more people being willing to foster children would help with the instability in the system.

“A lot of it is that investment piece just providing the resources and really insuring that the pieces are there so these kids are getting what they need,” he said.

Bone began fostering after his first child was recovering from open heart surgery as a newborn. He said he and his wife noticed another baby in the hospital with no parents around, so he asked the nurse about the other child.

“The baby had been left by their parents,” Bone recalled. “I don’t know the full story, but the nurse went on to share that generally there are always kids who are ready to go home they just don’t have a place to go.”

A few months after that moment, Bone and his wife started taking the necessary steps to foster kids with extensive medical needs.

He and his wife have fostered four children in total and later adopted two of the four.

“They, more than anything, deserve it. That’s why we have continued on for more than four years at this point,” he said.

To help the nearly 9,000 kids in DCS custody, many of whom are looking to be placed in a home, Bone encourages people across Tennessee to consider short-term fostering, asking foster parents in their community if they need any assistance with things like food or babysitting, and/or calling non-profits like Isaiah House or Youth Villages to see what assistance they may need.

“We aren’t doing enough to protect these kids so we are trying to do our part to help them,” he said.