Kitsap foster homes in short supply

"Imagine your chances of making the honor roll if you were shifted between three schools in one year.Imagine what the word family reunion means if you have been ward of the state since age 11.Imagine your parents leaving wordlessly in the dark of night with no forwarding address or food left behind.But that's life for hundreds of foster children in Bremerton and Kitsap County. Officials say the shortage of licensed foster homes has created a crisis of sorts for kids at risk. Though intakes by the Department of Health and Social Services ebbed 18 months ago, they are rising again.It's pretty bad. There are days that it's 5 o'clock and we don't know where we are going to put the kids, said Sophia Kouidou-Giles, Bremerton/Kitsap County DSHS area administrator. There are currently 440 foster homes licensed in the county and that's not enough.One hundred more would be wonderful, said Diane Schwartz, DSHS licensing supervisor. We'd be thrilled with 50 more.Kouidou-Giles said a family doesn't have to fear the process of becoming licensed for foster care. They think that their home life is going to be laid out, scrutinized and laid bare, but it's not that, Kouidou-Giles said.Requirements to become a foster home are basic:* Provide three references.* Undergo a Washington State Patrol criminal reference check (an FBI check is required if coming from out of state).* be cross checked on the DSHS computer to see if the family had previous contact, good or bad, with DSHS.Schwartz said potential foster homes must have space for foster kids and independent income. They should not think DSHS money will support the existing family.We look for homes that are pretty squared away, Schwartz said.South Kitsap resident Rick Williams and his wife Sharon have regularly had three foster children in their home since 1991.I'm a Vietnam vet and been through a lot, Williams said, but I have never done anything tougher than in my life than be a foster parent. But there is great satisfaction in givings these kids their wings and hoping they don't fall. The DSHS and a host of other agencies working in Kitsap County are constantly working to place crisis children from infancy to age 18. Of all 100 intakes into the DSHS system, 14 children will be placed in a foster home. Only a judge's order or police action can take a child from a troubled home, not DSHS staffers.With more foster homes, Schwartz said DSHS would have more options in placing a child, perhaps even tailoring a home to a child's needs.It's not good for the kid to just go to an empty bed, Schwartz said. We want to place a child only once during a crisis. ... It is always our goal not to break up brothers and sisters.Kouidou-Giles said social workers are assigned to each foster child and the goal is to keep children in the system less than three months.If a child is still in the system after 90 days, she said, the odds that they are going to stay in the system are going to increase geometrically.One DSHS official speaks with nearly religious fervor of kids in crisis.They deserve a normal family, a roof over their heads and knowing where their next meal comes from, said Tewannah Johnson, DSHS Foster Parent/Adoption recruiter in Bremerton. Sure these families have problems, but they are human. They make mistakes and they get out of control and just snowball.Johnson, Schwartz and Kouidou-Giles said the rewards of being a foster home are limitless with many success stories (see side article).Williams said each foster child is a subject, a process like a consuming hobby, with problems you must overcome.Except this is real life and the problem you are trying to solve is their life, Williams said. You cannot fix these kids, you can only help them fix themselves. "

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