County faces foster care shortage

LINCOLN COUNTY — Roughly twenty-five percent of foster homes in the county have closed their doors to new fosters in the last two months, adding to a shortage of homes needed to nurture children.

The majority of those families adopted children they had been fostering, which is bittersweet for DHS unit managers Linda Cline and Becky Selander. While adoptions are a victory for those children, it means one less home and several fewer beds available to children who are still in the system. There aren’t many options left in Lincoln County for these children.

“We have been in a state of crisis for about three years now, and especially in Lincoln County,” said Selander, manager of the certification, adoption and SSA unit.

Selander went on to explain that in January they will be working with Every Child, a Portland-based non-profit which works with DHS county branches to boost up and support their foster families. But, more than anything, they need more foster families.

Right now, there are approximately 16 general foster homes open to taking in more children, but Selander said that they get around 17 referrals per month. While not all of those referrals end with children coming into the care of DHS, many do. There are over 150 Lincoln County children currently in the foster care system, and fewer than 60 foster families in the county.

With so many kids and not enough homes, DHS has to consider sending them out of the county — teens are most likely to be sent out of county, then babies. Cline and Selander said that they  are considering this with cases “constantly.”

Teens and babies are opposite ends of the same problem: babies are extremely time-consuming to care for (not to mention the lack of childcare in our county) and teens often have been in the system most of their childhoods and, Cline described, “don’t have a feeling of being claimed,” which can lead to a more challenging parenting experience. For both of these reasons, it can be difficult to find foster parents who are able and willing to parent children in these age groups.

When room in a Lincoln County home does open up, it’s often only enough for one child — meaning that siblings are being broken up, which is even more stressful for children who already have instability in their lives and often feel like they’re losing their families.

“In the lobby the other day, two siblings were visiting together and then they had to go home, and the three-year-old was just crying and clinging to his sister,” said Selander. “Because you know he didn’t want to go back to the home where he didn’t get to see her anymore.”

For all of these reasons, Cline and Selander explained, Lincoln County is in desperate need of more foster homes.

“We need to step up and do better as a community,” said Cline.

A rewarding experience

Cline explained that — between court dates, potential medical or mental appointments, visitations and school activities — foster parents are busy. It’s not an easy experience, but for foster parent Barbara Moore, it’s the most rewarding experience in the world.

Moore began her foster care experience as a limited or child-specific home — taking in a child that she knew, specifically. However, after going through the training and becoming a certified home by DHS, she immediately began to consider taking in more children — she and her husband now care for three children.

“I keep thinking of all these kids that need hugs,” said Moore. “I don’t sleep at night, wondering, are these babies not getting love at night time?”

Cline described the ideal foster parent as someone who is patient, kind and committed. Being a foster parent requires being loving and understanding with children who have diverse and often troubled backgrounds.

“I would say the primary problems in Lincoln County are substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and criminal behavior,” said Cline. “Almost every case has got one or more of those elements in it.”

Cline said birth parents struggling with those issues typically need six months to a year to make a lasting change.

DHS allows foster parents to be as specific as they like about the age and number of children they take in, as well as taking breaks when they need it. For Moore, the specifications are simple: she’ll house as many as she can, but restricts the age to five-years-old and under because she says they have a certain need.

“They have no voice … so I’ll be their voice,” said Moore, adding with a chuckle that she’ll “be ornery if they need it.”

Foster parents are also required to play multiple roles: a teammate to the agency, a parent, and an advocate for the children they care for.

“I’m usually a really super shy person,” explained Moore. “But since I’ve had (foster children) … I’m not afraid to stand up at court anymore. I’ll shake to death, but I will stand up if what I feel is 100 percent right. These babies have nobody to talk for them.”

Moore commented that, while it is hard, working with DHS for the sake of the children is well worth it.

“They ask you to do things way over and beyond what you’d ever think about doing, but it’s all so a little person can sleep in a warm bed at night,” said Moore. “That’s the stuff that just gets me.”

Foster parents are provided with specialized training to fully equip them for the responsibilities they are taking on, as well as liability insurance, help with clothing and necessary supplies and financial compensation — including reimbursement for transportation and partial reimbursement for child care.

“You don’t need to have a lot of money or be an expert to be a foster parent,” said Cline.

Moore would encourage people who are on the fence to try it and just take in one child.

“It’s just a calling that has been so rewarding, it’s unreal,” said Moore, smiling. “I’ll pull my hair out sometimes, but I wouldn’t change it.”

Those interested in becoming a foster parent can contact Cline for more information at 541-265-8557 or by email at [email protected].

Lending a hand

There are a number of ways to help support the needs of foster children, without becoming a foster parent.

Driving children to appointments or visitations is a major aid to the families, as is providing childcare for parents who are undergoing foster training or need a night off. For everyone who wants to help, there is a need that they can fill. While some people would be more suited to serving in a mentoring program for the foster children, others can make a big impact volunteering with services that help birth parents to make lasting changes in their lives — recovery programs, for example.

Selander added that Every Child will likely be holding sessions in the community about the various ways that community members can serve the program.

Those interested in supporting foster families can contact Cline for more information on how to get involved.