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Population increase, drugs lead to jump in ND foster children

JAMESTOWN, N.D. --The growth of North Dakota's population has led to an increase in children in foster care. While the number of foster families has also increased, the number of children in foster care continues to be higher, said Dean Sturn, No...

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JAMESTOWN, N.D. --The growth of North Dakota's population has led to an increase in children in foster care.

While the number of foster families has also increased, the number of children in foster care continues to be higher, said Dean Sturn, North Dakota Department of Human Services foster care administrator.

Sturn said the department is always looking for good, qualified foster parents. Having more parents available increases the chances of successfully placing a child with a foster family, said Emeline Burkett, Stutsman County child welfare supervisor.

There are 850 licensed homes in the state and about 2,300 youth in foster care, Sturn said.

Foster care is 24-hour, out-of-home care for children whose parents are unable, neglect or refuse to provide for their children's needs, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services. A child in care has been removed from his or her home by court order, with custody given to a public agency in nearly all cases, according to the department.

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Burkett said the goal for almost all children in foster care is reunification with their parents.

"We work very hard with parents to get them the help and services they need," Burkett said.

The human services department doesn't have a goal for the number of foster homes in the state, but will continuously work to recruit and retain foster parents, Sturn said.

The number of children in foster care in North Dakota increased 14.2 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

Burkett said the steady increase of children in foster care is related to the increase in drug use across the state. Methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine use in North Dakota have all increased since 2010, according to the North Dakota attorney general's office. Sturn said drug use among parents and caregivers is one of the top reasons children enter foster care.

There has also been an increase in kids whose parents have had their parental rights terminated, Burkett said. The increase corresponds to the increase in number of kids in care, Sturn said.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act states that if a child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, the state or other party can file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the the child's parents.

"If the child is deprived and the parents aren't doing what they need to do to provide a safe and stable home, we look at the option to terminate parental rights," Burkett said.

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The next step for children who are no longer looking at reunification is adoption, Burkett said. Foster parents will often adopt the child, or family members will come forward, she said.

There are many reasons for a foster parent shortage, Burkett said, including the lengthy foster home licensing process. Potential parents must undergo a background check, which can take a couple of weeks, Wright said. Social services also has to check the family's or individual's references, she said.

Another step in the licensing process is a home study. The home study examines the physical structure of the home, checking that there is enough room for a child, Wright said. A fire marshal also performs a fire safety inspection. The home study also determines what type of child the family would be the best fit for, Wright said.

"It's important for foster parents to be comfortable with the child in their home," Wright said.

Some families are more comfortable with a child of a certain age or gender, Burkett said. But there are also families open to all children, she said. Wright said certain families work well with children who have developmental or emotional disabilities.

The home study also gives the case manager time to develop a relationship with the potential parents, Burkett said. It is important for the case manager and parents to trust each other and work as a team, Wright said.

The training process is a big time commitment, Wright said. Potential foster parents must attend a 27-hour pre-service training program introducing foster care and adoption programs. This training is part of the assessment process to decide if foster care or adoption is the right fit for the family.

"To give your days, love and commitment, it's not always easy," Wright said. "But they do make such an important impact on these children's lives."

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Burkett said another factor in recruiting foster parents is some children have challenging behaviors, so matching them with the right family can be difficult. Some children do better as an only child in the home, and others do better with other kids, Burkett said.

The foster care department works to keep many aspects of the child's life the same, such as keeping the school the same and sibling groups together, Burkett said. The department also helps foster parents get the children to necessary appointments, she said.

"We try to keep it consistent for the child," Wright said. "Because the home is changing, we make sure their world is still going the same."

Burkett said the county has a task force dedicated to recruiting foster and adoptive parents. Billboards, radio ads and other advertisements with the logo "Dare to Care" are one way to get the word out, Burkett said. The billboards have been very successful, she said, but the best recruiters are other foster parents.

Erin and Mike Romans are licensed PATH foster parents in Jamestown. PATH is a private nonprofit child and family services agency that trains parents for treatment foster care in North Dakota. Romans said she and her husband had always thought about being foster parents and they became licensed almost a year ago.

"Foster care can have a stigma attached to it," Romans said. "Unless you can talk to another family who has been through it, you won't hear all the positives."

Romans said it can be easy to talk yourself out of being a foster parent, but people are a lot stronger than they give themselves credit for.

"I'm not going to lie and say it's easy, you have tough times," Romans said. "But all these kids want is stability and a safe place they can call home, even if it is temporary."

BREAKOUT BOX

ND foster care basic foster parent qualifications

- Be at least 21 years old

-Be financially stable

- Own or rent a home or apartment

- Have homeowner's or renter's insurance

- Have adequate space for a child

- Have an income adequate for own family

- Be aware that foster care is intended to be temporary

- Have ability to work as a team with social workers and other service providers

- Have ability to understand and show acceptance of the child's parents

- Have an approved criminal background check

- Can provide personal references

- Foster parents must be of good character, in good physical and mental health and capable of providing a safe living environment for children.

Source: North Dakota Department of Human Services

Related Topics: STUTSMAN COUNTY
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