By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County is in “great need” of foster parents, according to Kim Poteet, Jackson County Department of Social Services’ foster parent licensing worker.
There are 77 children, from babies to age 18, in foster care in the county, but there are only 17 licensed foster families to serve them.
“Nine of those 17 are full,” Poteet said. “Two of those homes just provide respite; they do not provide full time foster care. So out of the 17 that leaves me six foster homes that even have a possibility of placement.”
That means 47 children have currently been placed in either group homes or foster families outside of Jackson County.
A group home houses more children than a typical foster home. It may have a set of parents or be staffed with trained caregivers.
While a group home may solve a placement problem, it is less than ideal, Poteet said. Being placed in a family setting is better for children caught up in the stressful situation of being taken away from the only home they’ve known.
“It’s really hard on the children to have to leave their schools and surroundings that they’re familiar with to go to another area or go to another school,” she said. “The more foster parents we have, the more resources we have as far as when we’re looking for a placement to keep a child in familiar surroundings.”
The first requirement to be a foster parent is a willingness to give a child in need love, patience, time and a home. After that, there are a few state requirements and an application process prospective parents must go through.
Applicants must be at least 21 years old, in good health, have a working telephone, be able to pass a background check, have the financial capability to take care of the child without depending on the stipend provided by DSS and have enough room in the home.
The home must also pass inspections.
“And then before you can become a foster parent, you have to do 30 hours of preservice training,” Poteet said.
Foster parents are also required to complete first aid and CPR training.
Families are only allowed five children in the home including biological children. The number of children allowed also depends on the size of the home.
A smaller home may be restricted to fewer children.
Families are recertified every two years.
“In those two years you have to complete 20 hours of in-service training,” Poteet said. “We generally provide enough trainings through our agency to meet your 20 hours.”
Foster parenting is a lot like parenting one’s own child with a few exceptions.
“You’re pretty much the child’s parent,” Poteet said. “You’re responsible for their day-to-day care.”
Foster parents are responsible for getting children to all appointments including court and visitation with the biological family. Additionally, foster parents are expected to develop a relationship with biological parents if possible and work with DSS to reunite the family.
“One thing that we’re really big on is shared parenting,” Poteet said. “We have a lot of good foster parents that are very much mentors to the biological parents to help them get on track and develop relationships which is another resource for the biological parents.”
There are several types of foster parenting: short or long term, respite or therapeutic.
“Once we take a child into care, in many instances, we don’t know if it’s a child that’s going to be in short term care or long term care,” she said. “It depends on different factors, why they were taken into custody, what the parents are willing to do and what we’re requiring them to do to get their children back in the home. Something we feel like may be short term may turn into long term and vice versa.”
Those who wish to do short term placements can agree to take children for a few days or weeks until a longer term situation can be found.
Long term families keep children as long as needed until the situation is resolved.
Respite care families take in children from other foster homes to give foster parents a break. Respite care is used for situations like family emergencies, time away to handle other business, or a necessary rest for foster parents.
“That’s very needed too because foster parenting is very demanding, and foster parents need a break occasionally,” Poteet said.
Therapeutic foster homes are for children who may experience emotional, behavioral, or social problems or who may need specialized medical care. The homes are more structured than a typical foster home. These parents have specialized training in a range of areas.
Children wind up in the system for a number of reasons from neglect to abuse.
“Of course neglect can be so serious that it turns into abuse,” Poteet said.
Neglect can occur when parents are overwhelmed or are unprepared for parenthood. It is sometimes cyclical. Parents who didn’t have a good home life as children may not be capable of providing one for their children.
Sometimes the remedy is as simple as education, teaching the parents about proper nutrition, how to shop for groceries or how to keep a clean, organized and safe home, Poteet said.
“We provide resources or referrals to help parents, if at all possible, get back on track so they can be reunified with their children,” she said.