‘Foster Care Month’ spotlights lack of community resources

Port Orchard resident Rick Williams has been a parent for eight years.

The father of four “high-need,” teenaged foster sons, Williams is well-equipped for his position as president of the Kitsap Foster Care Association, a local nonprofit formed to support those who the ranks as foster parents.

However, Williams said that lack of willing foster parents is a reoccurring problem that is currently crippling the system.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough beds, we don’t have enough foster parents — it’s actually reached a crisis stage now,” Williams said.

Williams said the reasons for the shortage of willing volunteers include the expense of temporarily keeping a child, an ever-growing list of requirements to be a foster parent and the cases of abuse that cast the state’s foster care system in a negative light.

“People tend to judge a system based on the negatives,” Williams said. “These high-profile cases, they’re hard on morale.”

But Williams said it goes farther than that.

“We’re just not attracting people,” Williams said. “Foster care is a very complex issue. Every kid has their own situation.”

Williams said the need in Kitsap County has become so great that children don’t even have a place to go the very night they’re taken from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

“We don’t have (a ‘receiving bed’) in Kitsap County,” Williams said.

A receiving bed is an extra bed in a house where children taken from their homes at night can stay. Owners receive a small retainer fee for their troubles.

A more pressing issue, however, is that when children are taken from abusive homes and move into foster care, they often have to change schools or school districts because of the lack of beds in South Kitsap. The lack of stability often makes their emotional or behavioral problems worse.

According to Christine Richardson, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Division of Children and Family Services regional administrator for Kitsap and Pierce Counties, there are currently between 400 and 425 children in Kitsap County currently in the custody of the department. Only 30 percent are in the care of relatives. There is a total of 300 foster care families in Kitsap County. Most receive a stipend and medical benefits to help foster parents with the expense of an extra child.

Gov. Christine Gregoire has proclaimed May as Foster Care Month in Washington in an effort to bring awareness to the situation.

According to DSHS, children placed in foster care range in age, gender and ethnicity. They also might health issues, both mental and physical, developmental delays or disabilities and might have been exposed to drug and alcohol use and abuse at some point in their lives.

In order to be a foster parent in Washington state, one must be 21 years old, pass a background check, have a regular source of income, complete the Application for Foster Family Home Care License, complete the required number of hours of Foster Care and Adoptive Parent Pre-service Training, complete CPR/First Aid and Blood Born Pathogens training, be Tuberculosis-free, have your home inspected and participate in a home study of your entire family.

A tiresome process, Richardson acknowledges, but one so necessary to the health and welfare of the children in our society.

“We need foster homes for children of all ages,” Richardson said. “Obviously, to say that being a foster parent is anything but challenging is naive. To say that being a parent is anything but challenging is naive. Raising kids, especially today, is just very hard. Frankly, we’re in a society that tends to react to misbehavior with some pretty extreme consequences. Foster parents take care of children who might never have learned to follow the rules.”

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