Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 5, 2014

Stable, loving foster parents wanted

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — The next time a Decatur County child needs a safe, stable foster home in which to stay, he or she might not be able to remain close to home.

So explained Emily Hankins, supervisor of the Foster Care Unit of the Decatur County Department of Child Services (DCS).

In an interview last week, Hankins told the Daily News that, at the moment, all the county’s foster-care homes are full. Fortunately, Hankins explained at the time, there were no children waiting for placement, because DCS might be forced to seek options outside the county to find a viable foster-care home.

“There’s never enough foster homes,” she emphasized, adding that although some people sign up to “foster to adopt,” the far-more pressing need is for people “willing to foster on a temporary basis only.”

“We need people who are willing to take these kids as long as necessary,” she added. “That can be anywhere from overnight to several months.”

DCS regional foster care specialist Sarah Middendorf works closely with Hankins. The Decatur County office is required to create a monthly foster-parent recruitment plan, Middendorf explained. “We do one activity a month,” she said.

So what are Hankins, Middendorf and DCS looking for in a foster parent? Some readers might be surprised to learn being married isn’t required – nor is being in a relationship. Although it’s not the norm, single individuals are allowed to apply to become foster parents.

“We’re looking for someone dedicated and passionate, who can be flexible,” Middendorf said. “These kids are often involved in lots of services, requiring them to do things an average child might not have to do. Open mindedness is another thing we look for in foster parents.”

For the uninitiated, a “service” is any kind of court-ordered therapy, counseling or treatment session, visitation session with parents or family, or any other kind of special session designed to address a specific need for any given child in the DCS system. For example, a child might need extra help with school work; “there’s a service for that,” Middendorf said. Other types of services might include individual or family counseling, substance abuse treatment, independent living and life-skills courses, school-based counseling, and others.

Regular meetings with case managers and CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and other individuals connected with a case are also considered “services.”

Foster parents, Middendorf emphasized, must sacrifice a certain degree of privacy not only to pass background checks and various screenings, but also in allowing the various parties connected to each case access to the child.

Middendorf described the background checks and screenings for prospective foster parents as expensive, time-consuming and exhaustive, adding, “it [the lengthy screening process] helps us to be comfortable with where we’re placing the child, and it helps, to some degree, to make the birth family comfortable [with the placement].

She was quick to point out, too, that parties involved with the case don’t drop by a foster home unannounced. Every service is meticulously scheduled and pre-arranged.

Foster parents must have the flexibility to deal with children from a range of backgrounds and circumstances, too.

“There is no ‘typical’ foster child,” Middendorf stressed. “Every child we come in contact with has experienced some kind of trauma. Foster parents must be able to accept and address each child’s behavior appropriately. They’ve got to be able to just kind of roll with whatever comes about.”

That’s not to say foster parents go it alone with no help from DCS. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Middendorf.

In addition to the service providers who regularly visit the foster home, DCS itself is required to stop by once every thirty days. We work with the family and take a team approach to resolving each case, Middendorf said.

By state law, successful “resolution” in each case means reunification with the birth family. Thus, DCS is required to work toward reuniting the child with the birth family for a minimum of six months.

“Anytime a kid goes home,” Middendorf said, “we applaud that foster parent and are glad to have them in the county. Foster parents play a huge role in helping ensure the transition [back to the birth parents] is successful and smooth.”

Being a foster parent isn’t an easy job, Middendorf conceded, but can be satisfying, worthwhile work for the right individual, offering the opportunity to “help a lot of kids.”

Prospective foster parents must be at least 21 years old. Non-married couples must have been in a relationship for at least one year. The applicant isn’t required to own a home but must be in a safe and stable living environment.

Candidates must demonstrate financial fitness, too, meaning they can responsibly support their own households. Foster parents are paid a ‘per diem’ amount to meet each child’s ongoing daily needs, but it’s nowhere near enough to support a family, Middendorf emphasized.

Applicants must complete a number of questionnaires and provide four references; those requirements are in addition to the aforementioned home inspections and visits. Those accepted to foster must attend 10 hours of pre-service training.

Middendorf and Hankins alike welcomed anyone interested in becoming a foster parent to call DCS.

“If you’re on the fence [about becoming a foster parent],” Middendorf said, “call us and we’ll arrange for you to speak with a current foster parent.”

“This could be a chance to make a difference not only in a child’s life,” she continued, “but also a difference in an entire family’s life.”

The next foster-parent recruitment event will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and from 7 to 8 p.m., March 11, at the Decatur County DCS offices at 1025 E. Freeland Road, suite B, next to the Decatur County BMV branch.

For more information or to enquire about fostering, call 663-6768 and ask for Emily or dial extension #12949 for Sarah Middendorf.

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; robert.cox@greensburgdailynews.com